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Afghanistan: ambush behind Taliban lines

By Ed Fraser, Channel 4 News

Updated on 18 February 2010

EXCLUSIVE: in a remarkable close-up account from behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, Channel 4 News video journalist Vaughan Smith joins the Grenadier Guards to reveal how British forces are using ambush strategies to beat the Taliban.

British troops in Afghanistan take part in Operation Moshtarak. (Credit: Reuters)

A clandestine operation carried out by the Reconnaisance Platoon of the Grenadier Guards battle group took place in northern Helmand province during the initial stages of Operation Moshtarak.

Channel 4 News has had unique access to the strategic operations and preparations behind the offensive.

Video journalist Vaughan Smith, a former army captain, was embedded with the Grenadier Guards in the weeks leading up to Moshtarak, based in an old British fort, now called Camp Shawqat, in the central Nad-e-Ali district.

Captain Jim Young, the officer who led the platoon, confirmed that his men had "65 confirmed enemy kills" in the four months leading up to the new offensive.

Channel 4 News filmed the troops as they lay in wait for Taliban insurgents. British soldiers worked side by side with their counterparts from the Afghan National Army.

At least three enemy insurgents died in the ambush which was intended to destabilise the Taliban.

In the next phase of the operation the Grenadiers with an attached company from the Royal Welch Regiment then "cleared" the village of Kushal Kalay of roadside bombs as part of the "clear, hold and build" objectives of Moshtarak.

IED threat
Roadside bombs are a constant threat to British soldiers. In one incident during Vaughan Smith's four-week period embedded with the British Army, three Afghan soldiers were killed by a roadside bomb. One British and two Afghan soldiers were also lightly wounded.

He said: "The threat had changed since the last time I was there. Now it is now all about the dangers of improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

"Radio-controlled and so called 'command wire' mines are common now, but the Taliban are constantly adapting their bomb making techniques to avoid detection. These days insurgents are using less metal in their IEDs - which means British troops have to use more sophisticated technology to find and destroy them."

"Each cost just a few pounds to make - the operation to remove one took eight men, three painstaking hours and millions of pounds worth of equipment."

'Thinking man's war'
Vaughan Smith, who often found himself under fire, explained: "Afghanistan has become a thinking man's war. While I was there complex tactics were used. Men would sometimes fires shots into an empty field. It was done so that the Taliban would return fire and expose their positions. But done in a way to ensure no civilian casualties."

Smith, who first went to Afghanistan with the Grenadier Guards in September 2007, added: "It was a different war back then. In 2007 it was aggressive and mobile.

"This time I was surprised to see how different things looked. The army now has a clear idea of what it wants to do. That is, deny them the thing that the Taliban need most - control of the civilian population."

"The Afghan people have seen fighting for too long. The country has been at war for 40 years. All they want now is peace."

For more Channel 4 News coverage of Operation Moshtarak
- Embedded with British troops in Helmand
- Bomb squad tackling Afghanistan IED threat
- The army robots fighting Taliban IEDs
- Moshtarak is a fight for hearts and minds
- Will Afghanistan operation finish the Taliban?
- British fatalities in Afghanistan

Troop deaths
A further two British soldiers have been killed while taking part in Operation Moshtarak, one from Grenadier Guards battle group.

The soldier, from 1st Battalion Scots Guards, attached to the 1 Grenadier Guards Battle Group, was shot this afternoon while fighting rebels in the Nad-e-Ali area of central Helmand.

Earlier a soldier from 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards died in an explosion in the Babaji area. The families of both soldiers have been informed.

Three British soldiers have now died during Operation Moshtarak - the massive joint UK, US and Afghan assault on insurgent strongholds.

Read more from independent video journalist Vaughan Smith at: Frontline

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