18 Dec 2006

A Modern Rorke’s Drift

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The Daily Mail has the story of a 14-day defense in Afghanistan, against overwhelming enemy forces, by twelve British soldiers (including reservists and medics) leading a small force of Afghan soldiers and police.

Actually, the fight at Garmisir seems more impressive in a number of respects than Rorke’s Drift: 12 British soldiers at Garsimir versus 139 at Rorke’s Drift, 14 days of fighting versus 1 day, a better-armed enemy, and undoubtedly considerably more shots fired.

Helmand’s provincial governor, an Afghan trusted by the British, was warning that if Garmisir fell again he would have to resign.

On September 8 the town was overrun, presenting UK commanders with a crisis.

Garmisir must be saved, but there were no British troops available.

Instead, three officers were given 24 hours to scrape together what men and equipment they could, and ordered to lead around 200 Afghan National Army (ANA) and police on a desperate 100-mile dash across Taliban-held desert in open top Land Rovers and trucks, groaning with all the ammunition they could carry.

On the night of September 10 they paused outside Garmisir and at dawn – five years to the day after the Twin Towers fell – they advanced. Captain Doug Beattie of the Royal Irish Regiment was one of the three British officers, and recalls how things went disastrously wrong within minutes, when the ANA got lost and failed to secure a vital canal crossing…

Captain Paddy Williams, the Household Cavalry Regiment officer commanding the operation, realised decisive action was needed.

Nine British soldiers in two Land Rovers raced forward to storm the correct bridge, braving mortar fire, RPGs and heavy machine-gun fire from the Taliban.

The ANA soldiers quickly lost two soldiers killed and refused to go any further, leaving the tiny British force and the Afghan police to fight on.

For 12 hours on the first day the fighting raged, with continuous airstrikes by UK and American aircraft guided in by tactical air controller Corporal Sam New of the Household Cavalry Regiment, who was to play a crucial role in the battle.

By dusk, the British held the small town’s main street, with Doug Beattie and Sam New established on a low hill outside – sheltering in the remains of an ancient fort built by Alexander the Great’s armies…

The Taliban had other ideas, and the British were soon pinned down under withering fire from three sides, sheltering in mud huts while allied jets screamed overhead, dropping precision bombs as close as they dared to the UK ground call sign ‘Widow 77.’..

Wave after wave of Taliban attacks were broken up by airstrikes and machine gun fire, while the British officers led occasional fighting patrols forward, trying to stiffen the ANA soldiers’ wavering resolve…

Finally on the fourteenth day the exhausted British troops were relieved by a force of Royal Marines.

They had fired 50,000 rounds of 7.62mm machine gun ammunition, and thousands more from SA80 rifles. Some had even emptied their pistols – weapons of last resort – as they stormed buildings.

Miraculously, when the dust settled, there were no UK fatalities.

Dozens of Afghan soldiers and police were dead, along with an unknown but certainly large number of Taliban.

Unfortunately, the position was subsequently relinquished to the enemy.

Within days the Taliban attacked again in force and the hard-won, narrow buffer zone south of Garmisir was lost.

Today the frontline is back to where it was after day one of the battle, and Garmisir remains under siege.

Doug Beattie said: “It’s nobody’s fault. The Taliban were too strong, with endless supplies of men and ammunition coming in from Pakistan.”

One Feedback on "A Modern Rorke’s Drift"


“The Danish soldiers were soon interpreting their rules of engagement loosely, helping to clear enemy-held buildings with grenades and machine guns. ”
This is why rules of engagement are a farce in the first place.


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