Royal Anglians' deadly battle
MARK NICHOLLS Frontline troops from the Royal Anglian Regiment have been speaking for the first time of a deadly offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan.Soldiers from the regiment's 1st battalion - including troops from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - have fought pitched battles with the Taliban in recent days as part of an operation to remove them from an area to allow the Afghan National Army to move in and re-establish the government authority.
Frontline troops from the Royal Anglian Regiment have been speaking for the first time of a deadly offensive against the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Soldiers from the regiment's 1st battalion - including troops from Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire - have fought pitched battles with the Taliban in recent days as part of an operation to remove them from an area to allow the Afghan National Army to move in and re-establish the government authority.
They advanced through a maze of buildings and poppy fields in search of Taliban elements in the assault in the Sangin Valley area of Helmand province.
It was part of Operation Silicon and an estimated 75 insurgents were left dead on the first day of the offensive, according to some reports.
For many troops from the Vikings, as the 1st Battalion is known, it was the first significant action they had seen. In a dawn offensive at 5am local time, A and B Companies supported by other units moved into the targeted area.
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UK forces were soon engaged by groups of Taliban fighters who used small arms, Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs), rockets and mortars, offering stiff resistance throughout the day as the level of ferocity and scale of attacks increased.
By the end of the day, the Vikings had been in continuous contact with the enemy for 14 hours with as many as six separate battles happening simultaneously at times.
Private Ben Humphrey, 18, from Norwich, said: "It was pretty intense and a bit surreal. A mortar landed not far from our vehicle and I hit the deck."
Private John Lewis, 19, from Cambridgeshire, added: "It was my first fire fight. It was scary but we all looked after one another and we were lucky that nobody got injured despite some close calls."
The advancing Vikings were supported by artillery, US F-15 fighter jets and Apache attack helicopters.
Army sources say that by dusk, A and B companies had succeeded in clearing the entire area and allowing the engineers' units to follow on and build fortified forts for the Afghan National Army.
Corporal Mick Walker from Yarmouth said: "The Taliban tried to take us on but they were no match for us. We had too much firepower with attack helicopters, artillery guns and armoured vehicles. They fought hard and put up some stubborn resistance but there was only ever going to be a winner in the end."
The battalion's commanding officer Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Carver expressed his pride in his troops.
"It is a proud moment for the Vikings," he said. "Very few British Army Battalions have conducted a deliberate battlegroup attack of this type against a determined enemy since perhaps the Falklands in 1982.
"The success of Op Silicon is down to meticulous planning and preparation and the professionalism and will to win of the modern British Infantry."
The Vikings took the lead in the massive military operation in southern Afghanistan near the town of Gereshk, which involved more than 2,000 coalition forces.
Operation Silicon was a clearance operation led by 12 Mechanised Brigade, in a specific area of the fertile Sangin Valley well-renowned for being a Taliban stronghold and for the heavy fighting last summer.
The Operations Officer of A Company (Norfolk company) Captain Paul Steel said: "It was a very complex operation which involved several different units all supporting the Battalion. Our lads had to dismount from their armoured personnel carriers and physically remove Taliban elements which were terrorising the local population and preventing law and order."
The Vikings have recently served in Iraq and were also last in Afghanistan as part of a peacekeeping force in Kabul in 2002, after the Taliban were removed from power.
Major Dominic Biddick who commands A Company said the operation had gone much better than most people had anticipated but added that some of the Taliban fighters killed were local men.