28 May 10 – Brimstone 42 – PB Baharda – Contact No 5
We rise early at 0400, again! Sort out our kit, weapons checks, grab body armour and we tab back down to the murder wall. Then we push out into the fields beyond, where we had our first contacts of the tour. It is still early, the kind of murky pre-dawn almost ethereal light and even though we have to cross just a few hundred metres of stubbled poppy fields, poppy harvest finished about a week ago, I cannot feel anything other than really exposed especially as we are now well into the FLET.
We search our self-designated ICP (Incident Control Point) and settle in to watch our arcs. We then send the REST out on their first isolation of the day. ICOM chatter is building and we are all tensely expecting another contact. To my right is a compound that we want to search now it has been isolated. To my front is a tree line, split by an irrigation ditch, with an infantry call sign in a fire position to our left. To our rear are open fields and a number of us turn this way to face any potential threat from our rear just as ICOM chatter builds saying “to your numbers” at 0753. Crack, crack, crack, contact wait out.
Below are the first thoughts that go through my mind, all of which happens in less than a second:
I know the contact is behind me, this I can hear and I am aware of. Yet in front of me about 7 or so feet away are little puffs of smoke popping up in the stubbled poppy field. They are not puffs of smoke I realise, in an instant but puffs of dust where the rounds are hitting the floor. I check my arcs but cannot see any fire positions. Then I appreciate what I already knew, anyone who has done butts party has experienced this, the cracks are the sounds of the enemy’s rounds travelling supersonically less than a foot above my head. The crack is the sound of the enemy’s rounds breaking the sound barrier and the puffs of dust are the rounds hitting the dirt. This is the point at which I genuinely decided ‘I don’t want to be here anymore’. By that I do mean Afghanistan, the tour fuck it all, I want to go home, now!
I can recognise Dushkas, PKM’s and small arms fire. All three of us pointing rearwards slither around 180° on our belt buckles literally trying to dig in with our eyelids. I knew the expression, now I understand it. The Dushka or DShK uses 12.7mm rounds, in other words a 0.50 Cal. When used during World War 2, it was brutally effective on any vehicle with less armour than a Panzer. When used against personnel or field positions it was a meat grinder that left the definition of cover and concealment up to review. To low flying aircraft it was a feared piece of anti-aircraft-artillery. The Wadi bank we are using for cover, hiding behind would be a more accurate use of words, is more of an irrigation ditch. We are bloody lucky Terry does not know what it’s doing. If they aimed lower those 0.50cal rounds will pass through this bund (built up natural defence) and then us, without even having the manners to stop and say hello.
We begin engaging the enemy that we cannot rightly see but we know from the plumes of smoke from their weapons systems they are 500mtrs directly forward of our position, in another treeline directly to our front. I could not be any closer to the ground and could not be more cognisant of how close those rounds, centimetres above my head. Bullets make two noises, a crack and whizz then they are relatively nearby. When they ‘voom’ they are within 30 centimetres of you.
Self-preservation initially made me turn around, but the obvious drill is to stay facing rearwards to negate a 360° assault. Oddly I feel less intimidated by my action of returning fire. Volume of fire will keep their heads down and stop them aiming accurately at me! I get a grip of myself and of myself, tell the others to turn around in alternate pairs and watch the puffs of dust to my front. Finally, after what seems an eon but is probably no more than 10mins since the start of the contact a LASM is fired at the enemy position, closely followed by shouts of rounds in the air 60 seconds as two or three mortars from Karnikah detonate on Terries position.
A resounding cheer from all of us as these two elements come together and the contact is broken. That 10mins is the only time that my near migraine has gone for the day, the pills are not working as well as yesterday. Whilst this is all going on the compound is still being searched and has only yielded an AK 47 which the owner is allowed to be in possession of under Afghan law.
Sly takes me out on his next isolation as an extra weapon as we know they are out there. The infantry call sign gets its sniper, aptly named ‘killer’ to recce by fire possible enemy positions, my head is pounding and as we approach the next compound we want to search, moving to the right of the position we were contacted in a single shot rings out. We all hit the floor and take a condor moment before carrying on. A second shot as I get to the wadi behind the compound we are going to blow our way into. The rounds are few but they are either going over our heads or smacking into the front of the compound in front of us. The Boss wants to know if I can see the shooter as it sounds and feels like he is directly in front of us. I cannot see him from where I am without presenting a golden target and tell him so.
A single shot from the sniper and a cheer from the position behind us. ‘Killer’ has taken out the ‘sharpshooter’ through the murder hole, in the compound wall the shooter was using for cover. A few minutes later ‘Killer’ strikes again. Another man down. This time it is not clear whether the man had come out to retrieve the long-barrelled weapon or was squatting down to take a shit. However, he is where the enemy are and we know that most innocents flee just before a contact.
Once I get back to our treeline I tap the medic up for some ibroprofen, I was on paracetamol. I swallow these and promptly fall asleep, on the battlefield, my headache dissipating for a short while. The rest of the day passes without incident other than my banging head which will not go away.
Written by Marc Woods