Light Dragoons’ daring raid into Taliban territory
While efforts to mentor the Afghan police are coming to the forefront of the Light Dragoons' work, the regiment's fighting capacity remains as important as ever – and their missions are also now being planned and led by Afghan army soldiers.
During my time with them at Camp Bastion, I was generously offered a seat on a helicopter to experience the build-up to one of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force's (BRF) dawn raids into enemy territory.
The aim of the mission was to clear compounds and disrupt the enemy's bomb-making and fighting capability in an area regarded by the insurgents as a 'safe haven'.
Crammed into a Chinook and launched into the simmering darkness of Helmand, the banter of the troops diminished among the din of the twin rotors as their collective focus narrowed.
As we approached the landing site, the aircraft came under small arms fire from the ground, prompting evasive manoeuvres as the Chinook lurched away from the soldiers filing away into the dangerous territory below.
The early contact meant the troops had to find their way to an alternate extraction site for their return – which, according to Staff Sgt Lee Simpson, was when the day became 'interesting'.
'When you are going into someone's back garden you know what is going to happen,' he said. 'We had small arms fire, UGL (underslung grenade launcher) and AK47 (rifle) and a couple of RPGs (rocket propelled grenades). We got re-engaged moving north, but everyone got through and there were no casualties.
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'We were suppressing the enemy contact as we pushed into another area, but we got contact from two more positions as we were sprinting across open fields.
'Then we had AH (Apache helicopter) engage the insurgents in this compound and… well, it had a good effect, let's leave it at that.'
The BRF were eventually picked up by Warthog vehicles and taken to a safe helicopter landing site in the desert.
Staff Sgt Simpson said the operation was typical of his unit's activities in Afghanistan to disrupt the enemy and remove 'lethal aid' from the battlefield.
He said operations like this had taken hundreds of kilograms of home-made explosives off the ground – including the BRF's biggest haul of 250kg hidden in a mosque.
'When you take these IED (improvised explosive device) factories offline, the guy who lives there knows what was happening, but he doesn't want it,' he said. 'He just wants to get on with his farming, go to the market and live a normal life. They are just the same as you and I. They are sick of fighting.'
One of the aircraft used in the operation arrived back at its base with some 'battle damage' after the encounter. A Joint Aviation Group commander told me: 'It is as risky for the aircraft as it is for the BRF. Sometimes they come back a little worse for wear when the enemy has had a lucky shot.'