British troops cloaked themselves in cloud of smoke to install a bridge in Nad-e Ali leaving frustrated Taliban powerless to stop them finishing the job.
Engineers had to dive into a ditch they had just dug as they laid the bridge foundation when they came under fire from Taliban insurgents.
They were pinned down for an hour while Afghan National Army soldiers and British infantrymen engaged the enemy in a fierce firefight in the recent operation.
The next day they returned under the cover of darkness finish work on the bridge but as it got light the insurgents starting firing on them again so they created a smoke screen with grenade to give them cover.
When the smoke cleared the insurgents were confronted with the fully installed brand new bridge.
The men from 10 Field Squadron (Air Support) attached to 28 Engineer Regiment Group risked their lives to build the bridge which will carry vehicles weighing up to 100 tonnes to replace the existing crossing which could only carry foot traffic and motorcycles.
Their Troop Commander, Lt. Kristian Haagensen (26) from Newcastle described the scene,
“My job was to build a bridge over a canal so that we can get our vehicles into the area occupied by the insurgents on the other side of the canal.
“We were hard at work on the first day shoring up the verges when we suddenly came under small arms and RPG attack from the Insurgents. We dived into the very same ditch we had been shoring up. My lads were pinned down for an hour in the ditch while the driver of the digger was pinned down in his cab. Thankfully they are solid machines so he was well protected in there.
Three of the soldiers involved with the build told how close a call they had.
Sapper Craig Mellon (24) from Cardenden, Fife said, “The Insurgents opened fire from a compound only 250 metres away as we were digging on the verge. We all managed to get down in the ditch next to the canal. The Afghan National Army lads and our infantry guys opened up on the enemy straight away.
“We were stuck in the ditch for an hour, but then once the threat had passed we got on with the job. I supposed I did feel a bit nervous working afterwards but this is the job we have trained to do. It is not until I was back in the tent that I thought just how close it was.”
Sapper Daniel Nansoz (20) from St Albans said, “I was in the cab of the digger when the insurgents opened fire. I am well protected in there by the armour so I just moved the digger to a wall as per my orders and kept my head down till it was over.
“The enemy does a good job of keeping themselves very well hidden but we have some equally good shooters in our Battle Group. They saw off the blokes firing at us and thankfully none of our guys got hurt - that’s the main thing.”
Sergeant Brian Tucker (31) from Mansfield Town said, “As Engineers we know that we have to get the job done. Once we had driven the insurgents back, everyone picked up where they left off. It’s always difficult after a contact but you still have to get the lads back up to finish the job.”
Attacks such as these are levied at British and ISAF troops because insurgents feel threatened by the progress that is being made. In many cases these gunmen are not from the area and therefore have no issue about attacking combined ISAF forces who are ultimately improving the freedom of movement for the locals.
Lt Haagensen said, “This really is the front line. I was very relieved that no-one was hurt and the lads were just pleased that they had managed to complete their job. We went back to the base and rehearsed our drills for putting in the bridge itself. We have trained hard for this kind of task so we were fully prepared the instillation.
“The next day in the middle of the night we went in, assembled the bridge and placed it in at first light. Again as it got light the Insurgents contacted us with some small arms fire. The lads got down in the ditch again and we actually used the digger scoop to get them into a safe position. Smoke was called in to provide us with cover. Once the smoke had cleared the build was complete – a gleaming result!”
“We had already built in a small bridge across the canal which is strong enough for the locals to drive across on their motorbikes. Once we have pushed the Insurgents out of the area the local people will be able to move freely about and the vehicle bridge will make their lives a lot easier.”
Projects like this are the vital first steps towards developing the local infrastructure and immediately after the military have secured an area they get to work on construction that will quickly make a difference to local people’s lives. Doing this is vital to winning them round and persuading them that ISAF forces can offer security and prosperity in contrast to the insurgents who do not care about the local population
Notes to editors
· Images and video of the operation are available on the Defence News Imagery website: https://www.defencenewsimagery.mod.uk/fotoweb/Login.fwx.
· The soldiers cited may be available for live or pre-recorded interviews; requests should be made to the address below.
· The soldiers are from Arno Troop, 10 Field Squadron (Air Support) attached to 28 Engineer Regiment Group, part of the Grenadier Guards Battle Group.
· UK Forces are deployed to Afghanistan in support of the UN authorised, NATO led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission and as part of the US-led Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). UK operations in Afghanistan are being conducted under the name Operation HERRICK.
· Task Force Helmand is the name given to UK-led forces in Helmand Province, southern Afghanistan.
· For more information, contact the Task Force Helmand Media Operations staff on: firstname.lastname@example.org
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