10 September 2007

Soldiers from Derbyshire have spent the past five months fighting the Taliban and the heat in ruthless southern Afghanistan. Evening Telegraph photographer Adam Gerrard and reporter Kevin Peachey were embedded with the Woofers for 10 days and begin a series of reports today.

Spanning the winding Helmand River and containing the poppy fields that supply much of the world's heroin, southern Afghanistan is an unforgiving place.

Soldiers from Derbyshire are fighting a guerilla-style war against a determined and skilled enemy who are willing to be martyrs.

They also face a second adversary - the elements.

Temperatures in recent months have reached well into the 50Cs. The scorched, largely desert landscape hammers vehicles and the ever-present, suffocating dust fills the lungs.

The most experienced of the Woofers' officers say this has been the toughest tour of duty they have ever experienced.

It has also had a heavy cost. Seven Woofers - Drummer Thomas Wright, of Ripley; Captain Sean Dolan, of Wolverhampton; Lance Corporal Paul Sandford, of Hucknall, Notts; Private Ben Ford, aged just 18, who lived in Derby; Private Damian Wright, of Mansfield; Sergeant Craig Brelsford, 25, from Nottingham, and Private Johan Botha, 25, from Pretoria, in South Africa - have lost their lives. They are the first Woofers to be killed on operational duty since Corporal Russ McGonigle was died on patrol in South Armagh in May 1989.

Yet the soldiers in Afghanistan - some of whom come under daily mortar attack and survive on uninspiring rations - feel their achievements are being at worst misunderstood and at best undervalued.

"People think we are on a peacekeeping mission, giving out sweets to children," one bearded young soldier said in the darkness of an overrun compound.

Private Mark Simpson, 19, said: "I think some people are oblivious to it at home.

"It is an unspoken war compared to Iraq. You can't explain what it is like unless you've been here.

"We should definitely have something like a medal for life - not just the two-and-a-half grand bonus."

The battalion's battle groups have advanced further than any of their more celebrated predecessors, such as the Paras. Pushing into the Green Zone - a swathe of lush vegetation on the banks of the Helmand River which is a Taliban stronghold - the Woofers have moved in and stayed in.

Platoon houses come under constant attack and troops face ambushes when they step out into the head-high crops surrounding them.

Men as young as 18 from B Company keep a lonely sentry duty throughout the day and night when boredom is the greatest ally of enemy snipers.

At times, shifts have been two hours on, two hours off.

During operations in the Green Zone, where the damp atmosphere rots the troops' desert boots, firefights can last for hours.

Private Simpson said that during one three-day operation in the Green Zone, he slept for just 40 minutes - on a concrete road.

Those on the opposition frontline are known by the soldiers as "10 Taliban". These poorly-trained men are forced or cajoled into fighting, and often pay for it with their lives.

Behind them, highly-skilled commanders control a determined enemy.

Lieutenant-Colonel Simon Banton, the new battalion commander of the Sherwood Foresters - now 2 Mercian - said: "The Taliban is a tough enemy that is entirely beatable. They are persistent but not invincible."

Move west from the Green Zone and troops face a different but equally dangerous style of warfare.

Woofers patrol the streets and outskirts of Lashkar Gah, the administrative centre of Helmand Province.

"This is the capital of Helmand," said Colour Sergeant James Bashford, 32.

"So it is the suicide-bomb capital."

It is where Privates Ford and Wright lost their lives last week, when a roadside bomb ripped through their Land Rover.

For their friends and colleagues, this war has become more personal. Most of the troops say they are simply doing their job by fighting here but many add that they are battling to save the lives of their fellow soldiers.

The Woofers' tour of duty ends in a month's time. They will return here 18 months later and it will be years, possibly decades before a secure environment is established in this most unstable of Afghanistan's 34 provinces.

Eighteen months ago Camp Bastion - the logistical headquarters of the international force's operation in southern Afghanistan - was nothing but desert.

Now, the sprawling, tented village houses everything from a hospital to a Pizza Hut.

The only escape from the searing heat is the air-conditioned tents.

Permanent structures are being built here - but it will take much longer for there to be a permanent peace.

Reader comments giving voice to local people
I think the troops serving in Afghanistan are quite correct when they say the general public are not fully aware of what is happening. Let us be quite clear, it is on our behalf that THEY are fighting a very nasty war, and the least we who are safe here at home can do is show them our full support. These soldiers have seen more action in five months than I did over 25 years service. I am sure I speak on behalf of all members of the Derby Branch WFRA when I say we are immensely proud of the "Woofers", and the other troops, by the way they are conducting themselves in their operations in Afghanistan. Also, thanks must go to the Derby Telegraph for its ongoing support and coverage of the Woofers.
Alan Derbyshire, Derby
1000 spin merchants on the MoD books costing 30mil a year and the general public STILL have F all cue whats happening in their names. The MoD really needs a beasting.
I'm NOT a 'county regiment' wallah - although I was born in a Shropshire barracks in 1941 (no clue there then). I only spent a short 35 years in the Army and there are a number of 'things' I believe to be FACT:

One: Nobody; no-one; nothing - will ever, ever in their wildest dreams, beat the British Infantry man!

The current sacks of sh1t, masquerading as our goverment, may try, but they will never, EVER, succeed.

Never been to Worcester, Derby or Nottingham, but I'll bet none of the WFRs (soon to be discarded by Jackson and Brown) will let the Queen down ( they are her soldiers , not the Bliar/Brown axis of spite and envy) - no way!!

Two: A nation has the Armed Forces it deserve.
Mr_Jones said:
They should have their own embed section imo, with camera crew etc to get the public behind the forces.

Trouble is they won't do it because of all the MoD/guppymint f*ck ups over the last few years.
Embeded media, camera crew or journalist can be a double edged sword. Cant always trust what there going to say or how they interpet the horrers of war to the public.
Labour seem to be strong fans of both population and information management. They like to control what information comes out.

Also the press let themselves down, their lack of objectivity and professionalism means that if I was in govt I wouldn't want them in!
36thulster wrote:

Embeded media, camera crew or journalist can be a double edged sword. Cant always trust what there going to say or how they interpet the horrers of war to the public.
Very true. However, in these kind of wars without a front line I don't see any other way of maintaining the neccessary contact between country and forces without it though. If they were employed by the MoD, legally obliged to be independent, but at the same time all ex-forces, that might be a compromise.
eveyuk wrote:

Labour seem to be strong fans of both population and information management. They like to control what information comes out.

Also the press let themselves down, their lack of objectivity and professionalism means that if I was in govt I wouldn't want them in!
Yup. No doubt the current (and many former and future governments) wouldn't like it. For me, that's a pretty good reason for doing it :)

If it could be done in a way that balanced the double-edged sword aspect.
I seem to remember a documentary which was of the opinion that Thatchers control of the press during the Falklands changed the whole game for governments in the West.

"Vietnam was lost on the TV sets of the US".

Wasn't Raygun a big fan of the UK's press control in the falklands?
Dunno about Raygun but generally I think it's the way now with western countries and wars. In a COIN operation especially, because there isn't a reasonably safe area behind a "front line", you'll get a lot less mainstream media types. And without a steady stream of first-hand info the public becomes disconnected from what's going on and drenched in pessimism cos all they hear are the casualty reports.

Personally I wouldn't want an MoD version of reality coming out of Iraqistan either, but some kind of legally independent embeds, paid for out of government funds (could sack 2/3 of the MoD PR folk to pay for it).
Mainstream media is not the powerfull force it once was. It's still holds a great deal of clout, but public managed media is starting to get more popular. Youtube, blogs and picture sites are where the real story of these conflicts are being played out.

More and more people are responding to that, thats why the USArmy has its own Youtube channel.



Book Reviewer
Well done the woofers, and sorry to note the losses. I hope that when these guys get back, they put pen to paper and get some books on the shelves. Not only would it mark their bravery down for eternity, it might get serialised in the national press too! Just a thought.

If the MOD won't publicise the daily acts of the most outrageous bravery and skill on display with our troops in the field, then our troops must take the lead by doing it themselves.
And what a battle it seems to have been reading this account from the Daily Mail.
Hero who died in the crossfire as he tried to save his men
By MATTHEW HICKLEY - More by this author ยป

11th September 2007

Sergeant Brelsford: Repeatedly braved the Taliban crossfire

An astonishing story of bravery and self- sacrifice emerged yesterday after a soldier was killed in Afghanistan trying to rescue a mortally-wounded comrade during an eight-hour battle.

Sergeant Craig Brelsford, described as "the perfect infantry commander", died as he attempted to storm a Taliban strongpoint during a night-time firefight - said to be the most intense and terrifying experienced by UK forces in months.

Realising that some of his troops were wounded and cut off, the 25-year-old soldier led repeated rescue attempts in face of withering fire from enemy trenches and machine-gun posts.

He was returning one last time to reach an injured comrade when he was cut down.

Details of his valour emerged as British military officials in Helmand province described the scale of the fighting around the town of Garmsir as being "of nightmare proportions", and "like a First World War battle scene".

Garmsir is the "frontier town" in the south of Helmand, straddling the Taliban's main supply route from Pakistan in the south.

It has changed hands repeatedly.

The plains for miles around have become a wasteland of craters after countless skirmishes, battles and airstrikes, and are now crisscrossed by trenches and machine-gun posts.

On Saturday men from A Company of the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) were ordered to advance, to "take the fight to the enemy" and clear the fortified Taliban positions.

Moving forward in darkness they came under intense fire, and the battle raged for eight hours.

The ordeal was described by an Army spokesman as "the most intense and frightening encountered in the past five months".

Sergeant Brelsford, who was single and came from Nottingham, realised that some soldiers from his platoon had been seriously injured and were cut off when the unit retreated, covered by heavy fire from British armoured vehicles.

He led his men back into the killing zone repeatedly to rescue three of his comrades, who were flown by helicopter to the main British field hospital and survived.

He tried one last time to find Private Johan Botha, also 25, from Pretoria in South Africa, who had been fatally wounded.

This time his luck ran out, and he too was killed.

His company commander Major Jamie Nowell said: "He repeatedly fought through tenacious enemy fire to extract casualties.

"Charismatic, intelligent, tough and robust - Sergeant Brelsford was the perfect infantry commander.

"I am convinced that if he had been given the opportunity to choreograph his own death it would not have been dissimilar to the heroic circumstances in which he died."

In a statement his family said: "The Army was Craig's life. He joined up at 17 and wanted to make it his career. He loved the regiment."

Army insiders said they believed Sergeant Brelsford's valour deserved to be recognised with a posthumous medal.

Comrades of Private Botha, who was married with a young daughter, also described how he bravely continued to fire despite being mortally wounded.

Close friend Private Kevin Latham said: "He died the way a true soldier should.

"Although he was very seriously injured he continued to fight until the very end, ensuring the safety of all his mates."
rabid_hamster said:
1000 spin merchants on the MoD books costing 30mil a year and the general public STILL have F all cue whats happening in their names. The MoD really needs a beasting.
The only logical conclusion is that the govt. dont want the public to know what is going on???

Well done 'The Ever Sworded', keep it up.

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