Sunday Telegraph: It was the end of a week of fierce fighting in the Upper Gereshk valley, a Taliban stronghold and the scene of much bloodshed over the past 18 months. The Sunday Telegraph
By Sean Rayment
It was the end of a week of fierce fighting in the Upper Gereshk valley, a Taliban stronghold and the scene of much bloodshed over the past 18 months.
The men of the 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles had fought long and hard for seven days during Operation Palk Wahel, Pashto for “Sledgehammer hit”. Although morale was high, the troops were dirty, tired and looking forward to a well-earned rest.
In a long convoy of armoured vehicles, the men of the Gurkha’s Fire Support Group, which was commanded by Major Alexis Roberts, were on the last stage of their journey back to their base at the sprawling Kandahar air field when disaster struck.
Under cover of darkness, Taliban fighters hid an improvised explosive device (IED) on Route One, the main road through southern Afghanistan, 20 miles west of the southern city of Kandahar.
Despite being the most mined country on earth, a shortage of helicopters and the demands of an increasing number of operations in southern Afghanistan means that troops are increasingly using roads to travel around the country.
The Taliban would have had plenty of warning of the convoy’s movement.
“Dickers” or agents using mobile phones would have called ahead telling the Taliban ambush team that it was approaching. As the convoy commander, Major Roberts would have been in the front vehicle an obvious and easy target.
Hidden close to the road, the Taliban would have watched and waited before detonating the bomb beneath the officer’s armoured Pinzgauer vehicle as it passed by.
The blast was devastating and Major Roberts was killed instantly. The Pinzgauer, a German vehicle, bought by the British for use in Afghanistan, was supposed to offer more protection than the much?derided “Snatch” Land Rover which most soldiers regard as a death-trap.
But there is no such thing as impenetrable armour and the Pinzgauer will not protect troops inside from a large and powerful bomb. This is not the first attack in which the Taliban used IEDs to destroy armoured vehicles and kill British soldiers.
The attack will also increase fears that the Taliban are getting military help from Iran’s government.
US Army General Dan McNeill, the commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan, said last week that the discovery of more than 50 roadside bombs and timers in lorries crossing the border from Iran last month proved that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards were actively supporting the Taliban.
Claims that the vehicle might have been destroyed by a “shaped charge” IED, a weapon perfected by Iraqi insurgents with Iranian help, have been dismissed by the Ministry of Defence as speculation.
But the Taliban are becoming more adept at ambushing British troops.
After 18 months of unsustainable losses following pitched battles with the British, the Taliban are rethinking their tactics and strategy.