Dark day for Royal Marines (Afghanistan)
A LETHAL Taliban ambush in which two Westcountry-based Royal Marines died was aimed at killing troops leaving a front-line battle post in Afghanistan's notorious Helmand province, writes the WMN's Lyn Barton from Camp Bastion.
The pair, from the UK Landing Force Command Support Group based at Plymouth's Stonehouse barracks, were taking part in a joint patrol with soldiers from Afghan security forces when their vehicle was struck by an explosive device in the Garmsir district of Southern Helmand on Wednesday afternoon.
A third Marine was seriously injured in the blast, as was an Afghan soldier who later died from his injuries.
WMN photographer Steve Haywood was in an armoured vehicle protecting the slow-moving train of lorries and was one mile away from the site of the powerful explosion.
He described the moment when the news of the attack was delivered over the radio: "It was solemn, very solemn indeed.
"We were told that a landmine had detonated under a vehicle and that at least one man had been killed in action. It wasn't until later that we heard about the others.
"Beforehand, there had been a lot of banter in the cab, but when we heard the news, there was just an unprovoked silence."
The convoy, manned by Chivenor-based Commando Logistics Regiment, had been delivering vital supplies to the front-line station, a Forward Operating Base (FOB), and was returning to Camp Bastion.
"Our convoy had reached the FOB in the early hours of the morning," said Steve. "The attack happened after we left."
It is believed that the Taliban had spotted the convoy going in and then planted the mine on its route.
"We took a different route on the way back," said Steve.
The attack happened about an hour after the convoy, a Combat Logistic Patrol, left the FOB and was about a mile away from its snail's-pace progress.
Steve, 30, said they did not see the explosion or witness its aftermath as the dead and wounded troops were taken back to the FOB. He paid tribute to the men in his heavily armoured Mastiff vehicle, who after several minutes' silent contemplation, continued with the job they had come to do.
"The blokes were really professional. They just got on with the job in hand. Once the moment was over, it was business as usual for these guys.
"I just knew that if anything did happen, I would be in the best possible hands," he said.
"I am just thinking about the family of those Royal Marines now."
The convoy is a dangerous mission in the incendiary province where it is believed fresh Taliban troops cross the porous border from Pakistan to join the insurgency.
Dozens of vehicles had left the relative safety of fortified Camp Bastion in the early morning on the day of the deadly attack.
After a slow 12-hour slog through the desert, stopping at every suspicious or vulnerable area to check for landmines and snipers, the convoy reached the FOB, a lonely outpost where scores of men are stationed.
The men and women at the wheel snatched a few hours' sleep and some food before turning around and heading back via a different route for Bastion.
Soon after they left, a heavily armoured Jackal vehicle, containing three Royal Marines and a member of the Afghan National Security Forces, left the FOB, almost retracing the steps of the incoming convoy.
The crew were on an advanced intelligence-gathering operation in a difficult and deserted region. A few miles from the base, their vehicle went over a suspected landmine which detonated instantly.
The families of the men who died have been informed and they are expected to be officially named this morning.
A Medical Emergency Response Team from Camp Bastion was sent to the base, a flight-time of less than 30 minutes.
The injured Marine was brought back to the base, which has state-of-the-art medical facilities, for treatment.
His condition and the extent of his injuries were unknown last night. .
However, the hospital at Bastion aims to stabilise those with severe wounds and then quickly send them back to specialist medical facilities at Selly
Oak Hospital in Birmingham.
Commander Paula Rowe, of Task Force Helmand, said: "This is a tragic blow to us all in the task force, but our loss is nothing compared to that of their families and loved ones.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with them at this terrible time."
Brigadier General Richard Blanchette of the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said: "Our deepest sympathies go out to their family, friends and fellow soldiers.
"Their lives are irreplaceable to all of us who fight for the peace and stability of Afghanistan."
The mood in Camp Bastion, where 3 Commando Brigade took over battle control of the Southern province in September, was sombre.
A few days earlier, on Remembrance Sunday, the lives of the 122 who have died in the country since 2001 were marked with a moving ceremony. Two more names will now be added to the camp's memorial.
An attack on troops is revealed, in an indirect way, to the 5,000 people stationed here when the camp PA system announces a shutdown of non-military communications.
Such action is usually followed by the tell-tale sounds of a double- rotored Chinook helicopter flying low into the camp.
Chinooks, with their large cabin area, are used to transport the wounded and when it lands in a dusty bowl by the hospital instead of the airstrip, it confirms people's worst fears.
Flags of every colour and nationality ' contingents of Estonians, Americans and Danish are based here at Camp Bastion as well as the British ' were being flown at half-mast in tribute to the men who would never return home.
The deaths bring the number of British services personnel killed in Afghanistan since operations began to 124.
Von: 14.11.2008, www.thisiswesternmorningnews.co.uk