by Shaun Milne
SOLDIERS from the 3rd Battalion The Black Watch have smashed a vital network of tunnels used by enemy insurgents to launch attacks against British troops in Afghanistan – capturing a series of deadly bomb making factories.
Hundreds of Scots from the Royal Regiment of Scotland poured into the enemy front line under the cover of darkness to launch the surprise attack on Monday in the deadly Howz-e-Maded area in the Zhari district in the south.
Supported by fast jet air support, gun fire from 40 Regiment Royal Artillery, Canadian tanks and attack helicopters, the Scots were ferried in aboard three waves of six massive Chinook helicopters to kick off the assault.
The lightening raid not only saw ISAF troops capture what had been a stronghold for insurgents, but saw at least two motorbikes rigged as suicide bombs and a series of roadside bomb factories seized.
As dawn broke after the initial exchange, troops also captured guns, ammo, 28kg of explosives, communications equipment, medical supplies, recoilless rifle and a grenade launcher abandoned.
They had been used to target coalition forces for months, but captured as Bravo Company and Alpha Company surrounded their targets before fighting off a series of desperate counterattacks.
Corporal Richard Clark, 25, from Dunfermline, Fife, said: “All the months and years of training simply kicked in – the insurgents never stood a chance.”
Amid fierce fighting it later took the “Jocks” two hours to advance 500 yards at points to complete their attack on what was one of the biggest obstacles they have faced in southern Afganistan.
But the success didn’t come without cost.
One young soldier – who hasn’t been identified – was horrifically injured after two days trying to defend his colleagues,
Major Ben Cattermole SCOTS DG, commanding Charlie (Fire Support) Company said: “Tragically during the operation to secure the extraction route of Alpha Company, a young soldier was struck by an IED.
“He had been working tirelessly for 48 hours to protect Alpha Company’s route, and was about to join Bravo Company to continue to take the fight to the enemy when the incident happened.
“His comrades’ immediate actions to treat his wounds were exemplary and second to none.
“Our thoughts and prayers are now with him and his family as he continues to undergo surgery back in the UK. His sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
The battle was fierce as coalition forces, including the Afghan army, pounded their enemy.
Private Kevin Murphy, 28, from Cowdenbeath, said: “The weight of fire from the aircraft was staggering.
“It was like a fireworks show as heavy-calibre cannon and rockets ripped into the tree-lines around us as the insurgent tried to re-group.
“Some of it was very close to us but we had total faith in the pilots above.”
Corporal Jim Copeland, from Camdean, Fife said: “The insurgent’s defences were extraordinary.
“The wadi was lined with dug in bunkers with interconnecting trenches, rat-runs and tunnel systems. IEDs laced the ground to their front.
“To the rear, the buildings had carefully constructed sniper positions and nearby hides were found where they cached their weapons.
“All around strike marks in the walls told the story of where previous coalition assaults had attempted to dislodge the insurgent.”
So deep into enemy territory, the troops relied on machine gun and helicopter cover to hold their Northern flank to return to base, the area completely abandoned by any locals who used to live there.
A number of insurgents were killed. The MoD did not say how many.
During the final phase of the attack, some were caught laying a further IED screen and were quickly engaged by attack helicopter.
The MoD said the “break in and search” had provided key intelligence for further operations in the area.
The Commanding Officer of The Black Watch, 3 SCOTS, Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, said that the impact of the operation would be felt throughout the area.
He said “We have badly damaged their IED making capacity in this important area of Kandahar province and destroyed their defensive positions.
“Above all, the combination of the canny Jock on the ground and surveillance from the air has delivered a physical and psychological blow to the insurgent’s credibility in what they consider to be their safe haven.
“The coalition forces in southern Afghanistan have combined extremely effectively to deliver a devastating strike.”
Major Matt Munro, Officer Commanding Alpha (Grenadier) Company, 37, from Inverness described the operation as an ‘unqualified success’
He said: “The plan was an audacious one; we assaulted from helicopters literally into the insurgents’ back-yard.
“We destroyed a number of enemy fighters and denied them their arms and equipment.
“Our actions will have a substantive impact on the insurgency in this part of Southern Afghanistan.”
Major Al Steele, working alongside Maj Munro, as Officer Commanding Bravo Company, said that the insurgents had ‘been given a bloody nose’.
The 34-year-old, also from Inverness said: “Yet again The Black Watch has proved that there is no where that the insurgents can operate with impunity.”