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Page last updated at 01:39 GMT, Monday, 5 November 2007

Taking on the Taleban -The Soldiers' Story

Group of soldiers firing at Taleban
Taking on the Taleban -The Soldiers' Story, BBC One 9pm, Monday 5 November 2007
Panorama followed a unit of British soldiers on a six-month tour to the front line in Afghanistan. It ended with one soldier dead and 12 seriously wounded.

Reporter Ben Anderson kept a diary of his time with 'The Queen's Company'.

In the following excerpt he describes a battle with the Taleban for control of the Green Zone - a solitary strip of fertile land about a mile wide that follows the Helmand River.

With two companies of Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, we joined the Grenadier Guards as they headed into the Green Zone. The aim was to clear the village of Kakaran and hold on to it.
In contrast to its fortified Baghdad equivalent, the Helmand Green Zone is where most of the fighting takes place

At the same time the Worcester and Sherwood Foresters were to clear and hold Rajim Kalay, north east of Kakaran. Both forces would then work together to further clear and hold the Green Zone.

We drove to one of the patrol bases and slept on the sand and gravel outside. At 0200 we got up and walked into the Green Zone; by morning we had gone through the whole of Kakaran without incident.

The sun wasn't yet scorching and I was enjoying a ludicrously false sense of security when one of the interpreters ran over with a radio held in the air.

He'd found the Taleban's frequency and had heard them say that they were about to attack.

Ten minutes later the ANA spotted a few Taleban and one of them rushed into a clearing to fire rocket propelled grenades at them. We heard the crack of the Taleban's machine guns and crouched by a wall next to a pile of opium poppies.

Soldiers fire from behind a wall
The Apache was making me more nervous than the Taleban
Suddenly bullets came from the hedgerow where another group of Taleban were shooting from an angle that made the wall useless for cover.

As the bullets came straight at us I told myself that the Taleban aren't very good shots - and even if they were, their guns are old and inaccurate.

The UK Apache helicopter that was hovering above us came in closer to look at Taleban positions. There was a terrific crackle and thud right next to me and nowhere near the Taleban.

Earth and smoke rose high into the air. The Apache had fired, but at what I had no idea.

The ANA had walked along the line of trees that had just been chopped up, so perhaps their bandanas, sequined skull caps and brightly coloured scarves made them look like the enemy - but the pilot should have known where they were.

The Apache was making me more nervous than the Taleban.

They've killed six of ours, not Taleban. We're going back.
It came closer again and I heard the whoosh and bang of a hellfire missile being fired and exploding. But again nothing happened to the Taleban positions.

Then I heard shouting from up ahead, where the ANA had been attacking the hedgerow. They were angrily gesticulating towards the compound and getting up and walking towards us.

"They've killed six of ours, not Taleban. We're going back."

We decided to run for the compound that had been hit to see what had happened.

There was a small courtyard, with a wall on the side that the Taleban were firing from. Some British soldiers were firing towards the Taleban position so we ran behind them and into the building.

A soldier fires at the Taleban
We were hit with more weaponry than at anytime during the day
We found ourselves in a kind of garden, still not inside the actual compound. The floor was piled high with harvested opium poppies, surrounded by high walls and shaded by grapevines. Then I saw something that made my heart sink.

The compounds were supposed to be abandoned, but crouching up against the wall were an old man and six kids. The kids were crying and were more terrified than I have ever seen any child look.

They didn't get any reassurance from the ANA soldiers, who helped themselves to the family's grapes and started smoking spliffs. One of the interpreters went over and did his best to let them know that they were now safe. I wondered if they'd get a visit from the Taleban once we'd gone, and be accused of collaborating with the enemy.

The fighting from the front courtyard continued on and off for hours. After one particularly long exchange, the Taleban finally seemed to go quiet. The Company Sergeant Major felt confident to call in supplies of water and everyone's mood brightened slightly.

An explosion in the Green Zone
The following morning the Taleban had retaken all the compounds
A group of soldiers walked outside to collect the water and suddenly we were hit with what felt like more weaponry from more angles than at anytime throughout the day.

Capt Patrick Hennessey suggested an air strike with a 500lb bomb; he said he'd done it before and it had worked. The bomb was dropped and the compound shook again. What was left of the grapes fell to the floor.

Once again there was silence, followed by Taleban fire. The bomb had missed and another was called. This time the silence lasted and the fight was finally over.

Three compounds had been badly damaged, one had been flattened and as many as 15 Taleban may have been killed.

I still don't understand how, but the only casualties the British suffered were due to heat exhaustion.

Almost eight hours since we had first come under attack, we walked wearily back to the patrol base. As had happened so many times before, ground that had been cleared was being immediately given up.

The following morning, the interpreter heard the Taleban talking on their radios. They had retaken all the compounds that had been fought for.

Panorama: Taking on the Taleban -The Soldiers' Story, BBC One 9pm, Monday 5 November 2007

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