Latest Channel 4 News:
Row over Malaysian state's coins
'Four shot at abandoned mine shaft'
Rain fails to stop Moscow wildfires
Cancer blow for identical twins
Need for Afghan progress 'signs'

Gruelling Afghan patrol proves Taliban threat

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 11 March 2010

Embedded in Afghanistan with the Coldstream Guards Alex Thomson finds that while Nato has the power and military might, the Taliban insurgency shows little sign of ending the fight.

A member of the Coldstream Guards in Afghanistan (Reuters)

It was the longest and deepest patrol that the Coldstream Guards have yet undertaken in a seven month tour in the Babaji district. And yet we were only a couple of miles from their forward base - if that.

And we only walked perhaps a mile or two at most, over the three days.
Even so that meant an airlift at dawn involving three Chinook transport helicopters with air cover from Apache assault helicopters. All that, to move that tiny distance.

So please, do not be fooled by any blithe politicians who get up and proclaim to the world that the insurgency has ended in central Helmand or its fighters have been pushed out, killed, or gone.
Nine years into this war, over three days we witnessed tiny numbers of young men with little more than a few AK47s and the odd RPG, keep at bay the greatest uber-arsenal this world has ever seen.

The Coldstream Guards and Afghan Army split into three small parties of 40 or so. All came under perhaps 20 direct engagements with accurate fires over two of the three days.

The insurgents watched their movements on day one, then set up firing points and ambushes on days two and three.

Helmand province, Afghanistan.

Yet Nato had the latest in night and day vision and scoping, predator drones and desert hawk unmanned planes overhead - the former directed by some unseen face in Nevada USA; artillery, smoke bombs, weapons of almost every calibre.
Yet with all that we spent much of our time pinned down, moving from compound to compound by the only (relatively) safe means: wading through a couple of feet of water in the irrigation ditches.
True, Nato has to fight with one hand tied behind its back these days.
"Be bloody careful what you are firing at," shouted the Coldstream commander to his Afghan counterpart," You know what happens if he hit one civilian? The president doesn't phone up an Afghan - he calls the US commander."

More from Channel 4 News
- Trooper Pete Sheppard blogs from Afghanistan
- The latest reports on Operation Moshtarak

Instead they tended to call in smoke munitions which make a loud bang and lots of, well yes, smoke. Are the insurgents bothered? I would doubt it. Their response to an F18 screaming low overhead and letting out flares as a "show of force".
"Don't worry, don't worry," they yelled over their radio frequency, "this cannot hurt us - prepare to attack."
And attack they did.
It is true that Nato forces have a bit more movement in this area. A bit. But it is also true that this company of the Coldstream Guards has lost close on a quarter of its men - four deaths, five double amputations, three single amputations - numerous other injuries, PTSD and AWOL issues.
And as they say here Nato has the watch - the insurgents have the time. The time to look at what Nato does and pick their means of attack, their place, their time.
They are good soldiers. They are very, very good. And they have not gone away by any stretch, nor are they going to by the look of it.
Unlike Nato's political bosses who proclaim the need to leave at the earliest opportunity.

Send this article by email

More on this story

Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.

Watch the Latest Channel 4 News

Watch Channel 4 News when you want

Latest Fight for Afghanistan news

7-day catch-up


Watch Channel 4 News when you want to, from the last week.

The lonely walk

British Army bomb disposal unit

Alex Thomson joins a British bomb disposal unit in Afghanistan.

Life in an Afghan warzone

A British soldier in Helmand province

Follow British soldiers on the frontline of Panther's Claw.

Afghan fatalities in full

British soldiers killed in Afghanistan

The full list of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan since 2001.

Week in pictures

credit: Reuters

A selection of the best pictures from around the world.

Sign up to Snowmail

The day's news from Jon Snow and the team direct to your inbox.

Channel 4 © 2010. Channel 4 is not responsible for the content of external websites.