Story and photo by Lance Cpl. Bryan Nygaard
NAHR-E SARAJ DISTRICT, Afghanistan – As dawn broke over Nahr-e Saraj District, Helmand province, July 2, several Chinook HC2 helicopters landed in a small pocket of farmland. More than 60 soldiers from A Company, The Highlanders, 4th Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, sprinted from the back of the helicopters and moved into defensive positions. There were no insurgents waiting to greet them with gunfire – just a few farmers herding their goats and camels.
The pocket of farmland represented a key intersection for insurgent narcotics facilitation routes. It was also known as a location from which insurgents managed money, logistics and intelligence. This safe haven had never seen coalition or Afghan security forces.
A Company’s mission was to disrupt insurgent activity in the area and to spread the message to locals that the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan planned to take over responsibility for the area. The company aimed to do this by taking over a compound and by holding a shura with local elders. Things did not go exactly as planned.
Within minutes of moving into one of the first compounds, A Company had insurgent mortar shells falling within 100 meters of them.
A sniper in reconnaissance platoon, A Company, 4 SCOTS, who for security reasons is referred to as “Jim,” was one of the first to return fire.
“We started getting [indirect fire] on the high ground, so we decided to back off,” Jim said. “As we were moving through the dead ground, we saw some fighting age males on the roof of a compound. So I stopped, got my optics out and had a look. A guy turned around and he had a long-barreled weapon. I took up a firing position.
“He was about 1200 meters away and I took him down with the first round. I continued to scan the area to see if there were any more [insurgents]. I think after they saw the one guy get hit they kind of ducked out and they weren’t having any of it.”
What followed was hours of maneuvering and firing between the soldiers of A Company and insurgents. While wearing 45 pounds of body armor and carrying ammunition and packs filled with 7 liters of water per man, the soldiers moved from compound to compound while enduring temperatures up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit.
“We would move and they would try to hit us again,” said Jim. “They were doing quite well today, using a number of different firing points. Firing from inside of the compounds while other insurgents would fire from the outside of them.”
Intelligence suggested there were more than 60 Taliban fighters in the area.
“It was definitely a hornets’ nest,” said Capt. Ben James, commander of A Company’s reconnaissance platoon. “It felt as if they were defending something. They were in an area that they didn’t want to give up. They were firing and shooting while [air support] was up in the air, which isn’t normal.”
During the day-long, sporadic fighting, A Company suffered one wounded soldier, while it was confirmed that the insurgents lost at least 14 fighters.
“It was massively positive in that we landed right in the middle of their heartland and disrupted their chain of command,” said James, a native of Nottingham, UK. “We struck a command and control node. We sowed the seeds of doubt in their mind as to where we going to come from next. It was a success because we moved in, held our ground, had a bit of a scrap and moved out covertly without them knowing that we had left.”
Later that evening, the entire force moved south out of the area under the cover of darkness. The soldiers marched more than four miles through irrigated fields, rows of corn, dense underbrush and ditches that were knee-high with water. At the end of the grueling hike was an outpost where food and water awaited them.
After a few hours of rest, the soldiers then boarded helicopters and were transported back to Camp Bastion, where they had departed for the operation just 24 hours earlier.
Additional photos can be viewed here.