[an error occurred while processing this directive]
Help
BBC OnePanorama

MORE PROGRAMMES

Last Updated: Tuesday, 5 December 2006, 16:08 GMT
3 Commando: Transcript
NB: THIS TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A TRANSCRIPTION UNIT RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT: BECAUSE OF THE POSSIBILITY OF MIS-HEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY, IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS ACCURACY.

PANORAMA
3 COMMANDO: HUNTING THE TALEBAN
RECORDED FROM TRANSMISSION: BBC ONE
DATE: 3:12:06


"The most intense fighting by British forces since the Korean War"
NATO Commander

SOLDIER1: They're getting closer! (sounds of gunfire)

Capt JASON MILNE
3 Commando Royal Marines
They are using guerrilla tactics, hitting us and are hitting us again and then moving somewhere else.

ALISTAIR LEITHEAD: How does this compare to Iraq?

SOLDIER2: Oh it's a lot worse.

"Here... is where the future of the world's security will be played out"
Tony Blair

STAFF SGT SPAMER: We're not here on like a UK mission, I think it's like a worldwide mission.

"We'd be happy to leave in three years' time without firing one shot..."
John Reid
Former Defence Secretary

SOLDIER3: They're doing what I'd be doing if they came to my backyard. (gunfire)

SOLDIER4: Like the Alamo, we're stuck in this country.

3 COMMANDO: Hunting the Taleban

LEITHEAD: Flying into southern Afghanistan, birthplace of the Taleban, where the war on terror began. Here the high-tech British military machine has been dragged into a war we were supposed to have won five years ago, against a ragtag guerrilla army, it seems almost impossible to beat. At their base in Camp Bastion, these men of 3 Command Royal Marines are getting ready for another desert mission. They're an elite fighting force in vehicles built not to protect but to chase and to fight.

First light and final preparations. They'll spend weeks on end hunting down the Taleban and provoking attack, and we'll be with them for the next 9 days, watching the war through their eyes. After months based in Afghanistan covering the fighting, this was my first opportunity to find out how intense life is on the front line. We're travelling to a place where the Taleban still have control, from Camp Bastion through the Helmand Desert to Garmsir, the main supply route for insurgents and drug dealers and a major battleground.

ALASTAIR LEITHEAD
We're on patrol now to Garmsir. The guys we'll be travelling with are the Brigade Reconnaissance Force. They travel in small vehicles, quite light, like this, with very light armour, just enough to stop small arms fire and shrapnel, because the key thing here is mobility and weaponry. They've got an awful lot of guns on board.

LEITHEAD: Staff Sergeant Tony Spamer, nicknamed Spam, already a veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq, is our guide through what was to become a terrifying journey. A man who knows what the campaign is about.

Staff Sgt TONY 'Spam' SPAMER
3 Commando Royal Marines
We're not here on like a UK mission. I think it's like a worldwide mission. We're doing the job, you know, we're looking after... trying to sort this country out, get it on its own two feet, eliminate that threat of terrorism and then hopefully, 2, 3, 4, 5 years down the line, we will wont have these bombers like 9/11 and 7/7, we can put all that to bed and move on.

LEITHEAD: They reach the gunline where the artillery is waiting just outside the town. A chance to meet the unit our patrol is relieving.

SOLDIER: They're clearly very mobile, they move from there down to there just... off the DC.

LEITHEAD: So Spam and Troop Commander Captain Milme, it's an opportunity to get the latest intelligence on where at the head their illusive enemy might be.

SOLDIER: And also, you know the hill fork, as you drive along that canal, there are four trees along the top of it.

LEITHEAD: They're not in there are they?

SOLDIER: Occasionally, they come and go but they keep coming back and having sniping attacks.

Capt JASON MILNE
3 Commando Royal Marines
They are using guerrilla tactics, hitting us and then moving, and then hitting us again and then moving somewhere else.

LEITHEAD: And the men pulling back to base know all about it.

CHARLES HENDRIE: The worst was other day, down in Garmasir, down in the town, me and another lad and we were scanning for like enemy positions where the Taleban and that was. Then all of a sudden, the RPG goes behind us, blows up behind our heads and then there's just loads of small arms and crap. Fire was hitting the sandbags, going close - most accurate. My mum was petrified. I just got a letter off of her this morning, she's just like oh, she's in bits. The Taleban team up for a fight here, seem still to take us on with everything they've got.

LEITHEAD: And fighting alongside them is the great British hope for an early exit strategy. The fledgling Afghan national army.

YOUNG AFGHAN SOLDIER: Taleban (points imaginary gun and mimics firing)

LEITHEAD: They train on the job with British troops and will eventually have to take responsibility for Afghanistan's security, but that's a long way off.

DAVID HEATH: We've sort of got to go at their tempo I think, based on the amount of money they get paid, they're reluctant to put their lives on the line really. So difficult trying to work out where their allegiances are and dare I say it, don't really trust anybody so just go with what you know.

LEITHEAD: How does this compare to Iraq?

CHARLES HENDRIE: Oh it's a lot worse, a lot. Yeah, it was a lot better. We didn't see any action in Iraq but here it's more or less every day can guarantee a small arms fire.

LEITHEAD: And then they were off, heading into town, straight into the Taleban controlled areas. Evidence of the months of heavy fighting was all around. It was eerie but we had no idea just how dangerous this show of bravado was.

SOLDIER: If they're smiling and waving you're quite comfortable but if the women and children are getting ushered into buildings then you know that something is going to happen and 9 times out of 10 it does.

LEITHEAD: Perhaps it also took the Taleban by surprise. This time there was no attack. But that would soon change.

SOLDIER: The idea being that we do that one first, swing down into that one, so we know there are Taleban in there also. Any questions?

LEITHEAD: The next day they moved to the villages on the outskirts of Garmsir on the search for intelligence.

SOLDIERS: Hopefully older.. some of the older people making their way down towards us now, we'll go up there with an interpreter with the Chief Commander, have a bit of a chat and try and generate.

LEITHEAD: They tell them where the Taleban are. The patrol's job is to test that information out. The villagers were right. Mortars and rockets explode just metres away from us. Part of the unit pulls back, out of mortar range.

SOLDIER1: First round, it¿ first round stopped earlier mate, It's a lot¿ it's a lot shorter. He's using air bursts at that height, basically the spread's kind of there, so he's literally used it from that tree line, against a short-hand long.

SOLDIER2: They're tracking us, aren't they?

SOLDIER1: Yeah.

SOLDIER2: You've got mortar one side of us, mortar one side of us: bosh, bosh, bosh. It's all on top of us. That's why we moved back.

SOLDIER1: You can see them standing to the side.

LEITHEAD: The commandos strike back, but the Taleban remain hidden.

What are those rockets that they're firing?

SOLDIER: The only way we can find out if there's Taleban in there is by going into that village, or close to the village, which is what we've just done, and exactly as we've expected, we've some under reasonably heavy fire from multi weapons, small arms HMG, RBG and mortars, which is the full range of the, sort of, Taleban armoury, if you like.

LEITHEAD: The artillery fired from 15 kilometres away strikes the village positions. The unit's forward air controller, Swampy, calls in an air strike. Suddenly a vehicle approaches. The driver is ordered away, the air strike is imminent. A Dutch jet drops a £1,000 bomb on the village compound, ending the fight.

SOLDIER1: That was exactly where the gunfire was¿

SOLDIER2: That was exactly where the fire was coming from, right smack bang in the ...

LEITHEAD: But the Taleban know how long it takes for Swampy's air strike to arrive, and may already have moved out - while another piece of Gamsir is destroyed.

How do you avoid killing civilians?

Cpl PAUL 'Swampy' MARSH
3 Commando Royal Marines
I won't ever drop anything down on the ground, unless I'm 100% sure. The pilot up there, I pretty much buy the bomb from him. If anything comes from it, then I'm the one who's going to get the blame.

LEITHEAD: But it's so difficult to know who is Taleban and who is not.

BURLING: They're very committed fighters. I suppose they're doing what I'd be doing if they came to my backyard, basically. They do know the terrain very well. They're not scared to take us on, even, you know, bearing in mind the overwhelming firepower that we've got. So I respect 'em.

SWAMPY: The way that they see life is very different to us. For them, to lose 20 in a fire fight seems nothing. They've only got to take one of our lads out, and then that's a loss to us.

LEITHEAD: They're still fighting. Minutes later, a long-range rocket lands nearby. They fire back at a barely visible enemy.

SOLDIER: You can see it now, 6 o'clock on the horizon, you can see the motors over.

LEITHEAD: Then they pull back out of sight. Deep in the desert, they meet a helicopter from their base at Camp Bastian. It's flown in with fresh supplies. After today's fire fight, they need more ammunition.

SPAM: Helicopter dropped it bang on target, got the swag off in about 2 minutes, back full stroke I were headed back out again.

LEITHEAD: It was never supposed to be like this, but a mission intending to bring peace and security badly underestimated the Taleban's strength. Cutting through the desert is the Helmand river. The valley is an oasis, providing the people with farmland, and the Taleban with cover. Follow the river north and it takes you to Sangin, the lawless centre of the thriving opium trade. Almost half Britain's heroin comes from Helmand. I went to Sangin in June as British paratroopers arrived, hoping to bring security for redevelopment projects, and to win the people over, but local faces his hardened hearts and suspicious minds. Like in other towns, the paras' strategy at the time was to move in and defend government compounds, but within days, they were under siege. Initially, most of this went unseen. The fighting was filmed by the troops, themselves, and it was close contact. Air strikes were called in just outside the compound gates. Hundreds of Taleban were killed, but they kept coming. They were within metres of overrunning the British forces. They were surrounded and fought for their lives.

SOLDIER2: It's the worst place I've been to. Iraq was a walk in the park compared to this.. just a gun battle every day.

SOLDIER3: A different ballgame, this is a totally different ballgame. Fighting coming in, Taleban are quick to surround you out here.

SOLDIER4: I've seen things happen that¿ that you read about in books and see in movies.

LEITHEAD: Do you think you've made any progress.

SOLDIER 5: Probably not. Like the Alamo. We're stuck in this compound.

LEITHEAD: Re-supply became a major problem. They were never meant to be so thinly spread, and fighting such a formidable enemy. There weren't enough men or helicopters for what the mission had become. The General spoke out.

General DAVID RICHARDS
Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan
There's no doubt the fighting in the summer was very, very intense, and I think it was to you that I said it's probably as intense as anything the British Army has seen since Korea.

LEITHEAD: Why do you think politically we weren't allowed to know what was really going on in Helmand?

RICHARDS: I think, you know, my own personal view is that people who were taking these decisions, didn't know how it would play back in the UK.

LEITHEAD: But destroying the very homes and businesses they'd come to protect did not play well at home, either. No one knows how many civilians died in this town when air strikes were called in to support besieged troops, but a mosque, a school and a hospital were all hit. The exhausted paras fought on to the end of their tour, before handing over to the marine commandos that I'm now with. The Taleban had been pushed back, but at great cost. 18 British troops have been killed in action; hundreds more Afghans have died.

RICHARDS: 2 or 3 months ago, the Taleban had set out to eject British forces from Helmand. They were saying they'd do another Maiwand, when British forces, the British Army was defeated in 1880. The fact is that we defeated them.

LEITHEAD: There are still clashes going on every day between British forces and Taleban in Helmand, in all different parts of Helmand.

RICHARDS: Yes, there ¿ there are still incidents, but they are down a lot and we're also not inflicting as much collateral damage, which inevitably was the case when we were being attacked so viciously in those district centres.

LEITHEAD: But the Taleban are still here in Gamsir, some are the people are Gamsir. On the outskirts, the patrol tries to pick up snippets of information. Many of these huts were built by people from the town. They come here when there's trouble.

AFGHAN: There are different views. Some say the authorities have brought security into the area but others say it's the Taleban who deliver security.

LEITHEAD: He tells Jason there are no Taleban here.

JASON MILNE: Right, if I were to drive over to the west, towards a canal, how far would I get, before I would meet the Taleban?

AFGHAN: Over there, where the orchards are, all of them are Taleban.

LEITHEAD: These people are caught between farming and the fighting. It's dangerous to stay put, but they can't leave their animals, or what little land they have.

AFGHAN2: When you come here, the Taleban come here. And there's fighting. Our huts are made of straw. Only one bullet is enough for it to burn. The fighting kills our children. Where can we go?

LEITHEAD: All along the fringes of the desert, there's a sense of denial, claiming to know nothing, and blaming outsiders.

AFGHAN3: We don't know where the Taleban come from. From the sky or from the ground? We don't know. The come from Pakistan, Iran or from other countries. We don't know where they come from. The are not Afghans, no. We are Afghans. Don't hold us responsible for the crimes of the Taleban.

LEITHEAD: They're trying to get information, but also putting on a friendly face for the local people, helping where they can.

SOLDIER: (tending wound on Afghan's foot) The skin's healed back over, where he's saying the glass is. So it's actually inside his foot. It's happened too long ago for us to get the glass out.

MILNE: It's guerrilla warfare, with a heavy slant on the hearts and minds, and bringing the locals onside, and remaining fluid, and changing from hearts and minds to¿ to war fighting, if you like, almost every second, every minute.

LEITHEAD: And heading into town to speak to the Afghan Army, that readiness will soon be put to the test.

LEITHEAD: Quite a lot of damage on these buildings. Since we called off fighting round here, it's very quiet, and the police station that we're heading to is just over there, I think.

LEITHEAD: The Afghan forces, not the British, hold the town centre, but the surrounding area is Taleban controlled. The army's intelligence officer says yesterday's skirmish left 9 Taleban dead and 30 injured. It's impossible to confirm this, or to know if civilians were among the casualties. He admits some Taleban fighters are local people.

AFGHAN: Those who remain here are from this country. They're the ones who are fighting now. The Taleban slit the throats of innocent people. I don't know who teaches them because Islam does not allow this.

LEITHEAD: And there is every reason to fear the more ideological Taleban, many trained in religious schools in Pakistan. This is Mullah Dadullah, the senior local commander, a founding father of the Taleban. His recent video shows 6 men being beheaded as British spies. Dadullah's men have declared holy war on all foreign forces¿ but they're only one part of the insurgency. Local warlords and drugs barons also want the British defeated, and ready to take on Jason's men, there's no shortage of disaffected locals. They pull out of town. The Taleban is nearby. Then it starts: an ambush. In the chaos, I could just make out a little girl's face. She was terrified, running for cover between our position and the incoming fire. The bullets passed just overhead. They were going for us, thinking we were the command vehicle.

SOLDIER1: Getting closer.

SOLDIER2: They're getting closer.

LEITHEAD: We were just crossing the bridge, across the river, when the shots started coming in. They returned fire. We're behind a wall now, because we heard shots overheard, just a whizzing sound, quite a lot - they were getting closer and closer. So we're now behind this hard cover, in the hope they can't get us here.

LEITHEAD: The marines push forward into position.

(whizzing noise of bullet)

SOLDIER1: That was close.

SOLDIER2: Fellows, stay down.

SOLDIER1: Yeah, we're trying to.

LEITHEAD: They're pinned down by the heavy machine guns.

GUNNER: Stand by for burst - over. Halfway between the large tree and the other one.

(ratatatat of machine gun fire)

LEITHEAD: The marines call in artillery, and an air strike.

SOLDIER: Artillery's online. The lads are still watching the firing point. There's still a gun there.

LEITHEAD: There is still a gun there?

SOLDIER: There is still a gun there, yeah.

LEITHEAD: They've stopped firing - is there a reason for that?

MILNE: They've stopped firing, I don't know whether they've got a problem with that, or whatever, but there's still a lot of movement there, so... it's inbound about 7 or 8 minutes.

LEITHEAD: A £2,000 bomb is cleared to be dropped - a massive amount of force, but all that's available quickly. The Taleban compound is identified.

SOLDIER: You need to have the bridge¿ bridge in the bottom of shot, and the blue building.

SOLDIER2: In the compound!

LEITHEAD: It's just seconds before the bomb is due to be dropped, and a civilian walks straight into the target zone.

SOLDIER: We'll be cancelling the fire mission. We've just had some civilians move into the location, so we've had to call it off.

LEITHEAD: It's been an intense exchange.

SOLDIER: The thing is now, we don't know exactly what went on there, until the¿ you know, the control start giving out the command indicators. So initially, we thought the contact was happening from there, and then we got engaged from the left as well, so we knew about the two contacts going down. That only happens when, like, both the¿ all the ... start chatting to each other.

LEITHEAD: With all men accounted for, they head back to the safety of the desert. Probing the Afghan wilderness, using gorilla tactics themselves, lays the groundwork for bigger NATO operations to come, but is the campaign making any progress?

Are you winning?

Cpl PAUL 'Swampy' MARSH
3 Commando Royal Marines
Possibly. It's at a turning point at the moment. We could go one way, finish it, or the other way and make it a much harder job for us to get things done. This is why, you know, it's quite important for my job to stop¿ stop that happening with the collateral damage. Warfare tactics, I mean, are out the window, and they are actually torturing locals in there¿ and moving locals into places where they don't want to be, moving them out of locations where they do want to be. They're creating a buffer zone with locals' women and children. They will not come out of the towns or villages and fight us in¿ certainly in this area.

LEITHEAD: It's about half-past 8 in the evening. We're moving into Gamsir district centre. The Afghan National Police say they're surrounded by Taleban and fear that the town could fall.

MILNE: Six new vehicles have turned up. It's vehicles I haven't seen before. Apparently they're full of Taleban, and they think that an attack is imminent.

LEITHEAD: The way that we're going in, is the same way that the force was ambushed last time they were in Gamsir.

LEITHEAD: And everyone is absolutely convinced an ambush is waiting again. For me it's the most terrifying few moments of the mission: just waiting for that first shot to come in. The Taleban control everything to the left, and directly ahead. The commandos call it: "ambush alley".

AFGHAN: (Pointing in all directions) Taleban, Taleban, Taleban.

LEITHEAD: Hearing it from the police, it certainly seems that Gamsir's about to be attacked. Spam tries to deploy the Afghan police into defensive positions, but he's having problems.

SPAM: One, two. One, two. Two?

AFGHAN: Si. (gesticulating and numbering on fingers)

SPAM: Where?

LEITHEAD: Communication is difficult.

SPAM: We'll be alright. We'll just see, if it goes tits up, we'll just start shouting.

SOLDIER1: See anything?

SOLDIER2: Nothing.

LEITHEAD: There's no sign of the 6 vehicles, or the Taleban reinforcements. The Afghan police are relaxed. They've been smoking drugs. The suspicion is they've brought the commandos in to give themselves an easy night.

What was that, Spam?

SPAM: Snipers.

LEITHEAD: You have snipers?

SPAM: There's a few there, like.

SOLDIER: Yeah, there's at least 3.

SPAM: What's happening is about 10 minutes ago, they spotted people skulking around in by the far side of there.

SOLDIER: Oh man.

SPAM: That Taleban is a bit of a sort of¿ it's more of a ghost really, than an actual, sort of, entity, because you can't tell if it's Taleban, or if it's just somebody pissed off at the fact that you're on their land, or could just be a farmer taking pot shots at you.

LEITHEAD: All that risk, just for a couple of sniper shots has done little to allay the British concerns about the quality of the Afghan forces. At dawn, the Afghan Army patrol the district themselves. They're much further on in training than the police, but they're still learning. They're following Captain Duncan Forbes, the only marine who travels with them.

Are you trying to turn them into the British Army?

CAPT. FORBES: Absolutely not, it would not work. You know, these are not model British soldiers. These are guys who come from a variety of backgrounds all around the country, who are trained to be soldiers in an Afghan model.

LEITHEAD: Do you think you're here for a good reason?

FORBES: Yes I do.

LEITHEAD: Yeah, what is it specifically, what's the key thing? If someone came into your pub and said, "It's all rubbish, you shouldn't be here"?

FORBES: Well, look around¿ look around you right now, all around this village we've just been through, the Taleban have basically destroyed this village, they've threatened the farmers, they've had to move out of the area, and we're here to put these people back on their feet.

LEITHEAD: And it's going to happen?

FORBES: I hope so.

LEITHEAD: How long will it be before the Afghan National Army no longer needs British help?

AFGHAN: In my view, they must stay for at least six or seven more years.

LEITHEAD: Another 6 or 7 years of conflict would be disastrous in a place already reeling from just 6 months of fighting.

LEITHEAD: This abandoned and desolate place was the thriving market centre of Gamsir Town. It's now the frontline, between British troops and Afghan security forces on this side, and the Taleban, who are just a few 100 metres over there. All the people have been forced out into the surrounding villages to avoid the fighting, the NATO mission was supposed to be winning these people over, not forcing them from their shops and homes.

After 10 hours wandering the desert, searching for British forces, the town elders, angry their villages are being bombed, demand a meeting. It's a real opportunity for the British to explain what they're trying to do. They fly in a Colonel to see if the elders can help broker a peace deal.

COL. PETERS: I'm Colonel Peters, and welcome to my carpet, but thank you for welcoming me to your land. I hope we can persuade some of those Taleban and the people of Afghanistan to support the government here. We are all human, we are all the same. You all need to be convinced that the government is not corrupt, and is looking after your interests. I think we all need some patience, but our wish is not to bring destruction to you, your families and your farms.

AFGHAN: We live on this side of the Zabur River, and when you brought your tanks and vehicles here, we were caught in crossfire. We were hit by shells. My daughter was injured. Part of my house was damaged. Each and every one of us here today has suffered like this. The Taleban told us that if you come here, they'll bomb our village, they'll hit our village. So why are you here? They say we're helping you.

COL. PETERS: The problems you face are because we are fighting the Taleban, and if we¿ if we weren't fighting the Taleban, would you have no problems?

AFGHAN: Yes, we have problems with them. When the Taleban were in power, they forced our young men to go and fight in the north. We had economic problems. In the last three years, Afghanistan has suffered a lot. We don't want this. We want peace and to be free.

COL. PETERS: Now we understand your situation better, we can be more careful about how we use our force, and we have some gifts for you.

LEITHEAD: But apart from exchanging words and presents, radios and turbans, so far little has been achieved.

General DAVID RICHARDS
Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan
We're in a bit of a catch 22 situation. The villagers want us to defeat the Taleban, but they don't what might come with that effort, and the Taleban very cynically exploit that difficulty, because there is no moral equivalence between the Taleban and us. We would never do that to them. We don't seek to fight from amongst the houses, to get them to attack us.

LEITHEAD: As long as there's no peace, the Afghan security forces have to hold the town themselves, with constant British help.

AFGHAN: We don't have any heavy weapons or air power. We don't have tanks, or mortars. But our enemy does have mortars.

LEITHEAD: The Afghans might not have the right weapons to hit the Taleban, but the British troops certainly do. Up on the roof, using thermal imaging, Jason's men have seen some movement.

SOLDIER1: Ok, I'm going to have these.

SOLDIER2: Charlie, Charlie, One, firing now.

SOLDIER3: Firing.

SOLDIER4: (Laughs) Bang on, that was f***ing bang on, mate.

SOLDIER1: No he's up. Go again.

SOLDIER2: Locked in, ready to go. Clear that¿

SOLDIER3: That was it. Spot on. That was bang on Ben. He was running off.

SOLDIER4: (Laughs) F***ing dancer.

MILNE: Yeah, roger, BDA is 3 times Taleban destroyed.

LEITHEAD: Hitting their enemy one at a time, with rockets worth thousands of pounds is slow progress, and more Taleban will just step into their place.

AFGHAN: When the coalition forces come here with our permission, the Taleban hide. But when the coalition forces leave, the Taleban emerge and start firing at us.

LEITHEAD: There's no proof the international forces are winning what's so much more than just a military campaign. Even other NATO countries are baulking at the fight.

Cpl PAUL 'Swampy' MARSH
3 Commando Royal Marines
We can make it secure for a year, couple of years, move back out. It's never going to, I don't think, stop the situation. Somebody else will come in, and it'll just kick off again.

LEITHEAD: When we got back to Camp Bastian, Tony Blair arrived to meet the troops, and he heard more than he'd bargained for.

BLAIR: I mean, just tell me - what sort of thing will you be using it against?

OFFICER: Lot of houses at the minute.

LEITHEAD: The same dilemma, but today's emphasis is more military victory than hearts and minds.

BLAIR: (Addressing the troops) The people that we're fighting want to fight us back, and the only way we're going to beat them is to have the determination and the courage and the absolute will to make sure that however much they fight us, we're prepared to stand up to them, fight them back and defeat them. Here, in this extraordinary piece of desert, is where the future in the early 21st Century of the world's security is going to be played out.

LEITHEAD: So the political stakes are suddenly so much higher, but the Taleban can wait and wait until the British forces leave. It's a lot easier for us to lose. The big test will be how strongly the Taleban hit back in the spring, the traditional start of the fighting season.

SWAMPY: I don't want to sound as if, you know, I know this country's doomed, you know, I will help in any way I can while I'm here - but I'll just do my job to the best of my ability. People aren't bothered about us, the people in my troop and that's as far as it goes.

LEITHEAD: Afghans have always backed whoever they think is winning, and that's not yet clear.

KEN BREWSTER: If the hearts and mind doesn't work, we will alienate the population, and obviously it's going to make our job even harder here. So I think we do have to act quickly and just show the locals that we're¿ we are here to help, and we're not here to conquer.

LEITHEAD: And every day, the fighting continues to destroy buildings and force people from their homes. Hearts and minds slip a little further out of reach.


FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


banner watch listen bbc sport Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific