Sangin Patrol and the Mastiff

August 29, 2007

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This morning I went on patrol with the Queen’s Company of the Grenadier Guards and the First Kandak of the Afghan National Army commanded by Major Attaullah. The commander of the British ‘mentors” was Colour Sergeant “Spook” Boak.
The job of training and fighting with indigenous forces is the sort of role that Special Forces would normally assume.
The Afghan soldiers are not shy of fighting according to the Grenadiers and are particularly skilled at spotting the Taliban from afar. But it is a challenging job integrating them into regular British units because of the difficulties in translation and control.
Colour Sergeant Boak told me, that by his calculation, they get shot at on 50% of the patrols that he has been on. But this patrol was without incident.
I was grateful of the chance to get used to the pace and the heat. It was exhausting. Good thing that I had been doing a little training, and dieting, before leaving London. I expect to lose more weight here.
Speaking to the British officers and men you begin to appreciate the casualties that all units have sustained, British and Afghan. As I was told, 78.32% of statistics are made up. But looking at the figures available on casualties the Grenadiers have suffered a similar level of losses while ‘mentoring’ Afghan soldiers as other the other British units here who have operated in a more traditional role.
The soldiers were uncomfortable to have their casualty statistics compared to other conflicts at other times. They thought that it was not right or possible to do this. But it is clear that the fighting has been full-on and much more so than in Iraq.
I was particularly struck by how little the numbers can mean, particularly when they list only the dead. The quality of modern medicine is such that for each soldier killed there are nearly 10 wounded.
The wounded soldiers have been leaving Afghanistan very often with really horrific injuries. Limbs have been lost, as has eyesight. Very many lives will never be the same again and the soldiers that I spoke to felt that this human cost was not fully appreciated back home. Except of course within the regimental families and perhaps the wider armed forces.
I think the treatment of casualties from Afghanistan is going to become an issue. It is the thing that the soldiers here care most about.
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The importance of preserving the soldiers has seen the introduction of a new super-vehicle, called the Mastiff. Having run a small fleet of armoured vehicles for journalists in Bosnia in the early 90’s I was very interested in the almost complete indestructibility of the Mastiff. I want one, but unfortunately they are very expensive.



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