UK’s 19 Light Brigade Reconnaissance Force in Afghanistan
source: UK MoD
Soldiers of 19 Light Brigade’s elite Reconnaissance Force have recently undertaken one of their biggest deployments to date – and have had to draw on all their training and determination to get the job done.
For some the thought of being ambushed, rocketed, shot at and trapped for hours in the fierce Afghan heat would be the stuff of nightmares. But for soldiers of 19 Light Brigade’s elite Reconnaissance Force (BRF), who recently experienced just such a scenario, being in the thick of it is what it’s all about.
Under cover of darkness and using night vision, the patrol of more than one hundred men, including Afghan National Security Forces and a Counter Improvised Explosive Device (CIED) team, left Camp Bastion in 26 Jackals and two Mastiffs.
Codenamed Operation PANTHER’S VALOUR (or Operation SHEJAH PALANG in Pashtu), its aim was to engage with locals in the Luy Mandah Wadi area of Nad e-Ali as well as to support The Light Dragoons Battle Group in the nearby town of Babaji. With the highly successful conclusion of Operation PANTHER’S CLAW in late July, commanders also wanted to keep up the pressure on nearby insurgents and disrupt their activities.
The heavily armed and highly mobile soldiers of the BRF were ideal candidates for the job. Drawn from throughout the brigade, the BRF is a generalist unit designed to provide 19 Light Brigade with a flexible company-strength force. The BRF is made up of soldiers drafted in predominately from the infantry units of 19 Light Brigade. These soldiers come together and form a heavily armed light role infantry unit able to deploy wherever the Brigade requires them.
The BRF conducted extensive pre-deployment training covering a range of conventional and specialist skills. Mounted in Jackal vehicles, which have impressive manoeuvring capabilities but are also capable of dismounting, the BRF has been deployed all over the Task Force Helmand Area of Operations.
That training proved vital, as within minutes of reaching the objective area the BRF was soon engaged in heavy fighting with insurgents as they protected the CIED team’s attempts to disarm a number of IEDs in the local bazaar.
Captain Euan Grant, the unit’s Operations Officer, said:
“The lads are always up for it, always ready to do their job in the most difficult of circumstances.
“We’ve had a tough tour this year but despite that the lads know they’ve done a sterling job so far, really taking the fight to the insurgents.”
With the help of Apache helicopter gunships and US F16 fighters the BRF was able to call in fire support onto insurgent positions, sometimes less than 100 metres away from themselves.
But it was while extracting the CIED team from the area that the BRF showed why it has earned its formidable reputation.
On the convoy out, the lead CIED Mastiff vehicle was struck by a massive IED. The huge explosion showered dust and wreckage across the convoy. For a moment everyone was in shock and there was an eerie silence as the dust billowed out and the grim realisation of what had happened sunk in. Then, within seconds, vehicle and convoy commanders were shouting orders to their men.
Lance Corporal Ryan ‘Kingy’ King was aware of the threat and shouted:
“Get ready! Here it comes. If they’re going to attack it’s going to be now.”
Almost on cue an insurgent rocket-propelled grenade streaked out at the convoy, missing the long line of vehicles, now badly exposed on high ground, by just a few feet.
It was followed instantly by nearby insurgent machine gun fire.
Within 30 seconds soldiers had identified a number of enemy firing positions and were engaging with them.
The ‘whump,whump, whump’ of the grenade machine guns and .50-calibrel machine guns had very soon put a stop to the insurgent ambush.
Miraculously no-one was seriously injured, but the front right wheel of the Mastiff had been mangled in the explosion and it would be many hours before a recovery vehicle could be on the scene.
With the convoy blocked in and no recovery of the vehicle available for many hours, the BRF prepared for a long night by their vehicles, in the open and surrounded by insurgents:
“The biggest danger tonight is firing on our own side,” said Private Ben Ansaldo.
“Because we have some of our guys back over in the far compound, if the insurgents can infiltrate between us tonight then that will be real bad.
“But personally I don’t think they’ll attack tonight. They took quite a smashing and they’ll probably want the same as us which is to get their heads down for the night,” he added laughing.
Private Ansaldo’s prediction was spot on.
Nothing happened during the night, the attacks started again in the morning; as the insurgents realised the soldiers were still vulnerable and wanted to push home the advantage. But the soldiers of the BRF not only held out, they also killed at least one insurgent and captured another red-handed with a large cache of weapons.
Once the convoy was able to move again, they were underway to return to base. To fight another day.