Page last updated at 16:54 GMT, Sunday, 4 January 2009

Voices from the Afghan front line

UK troops in Afghanistan have been giving first-hand accounts of their experiences during Operation Sond Chara, which saw coalition forces seize control of four key Taleban bases.

Lt Matt Roberts, 59 Independent Commando Squadron
Lt Matt Roberts

It was a dark cold winter morning as our helicopter landed.

I observed, through my night-vision goggles, groups of Taleban beginning to flee as waves of Chinooks started landing in the vicinity of the Nad-e-Ali area.

An entire Company strength of Royal Marines dominated the area leaving the Taleban with no other option than to flee.

I was tasked with the construction of two patrol bases. After conducting a night-time bridge reconnaissance, the route was secure and accessible for our vehicles to move into an Afghan compound.

As our vehicles arrived on site, the night sky was lit up by tracer... as the fleeing Taleban contacted the advancing convoy.

My Section of Royal Engineers showed extreme bravery and commando spirit as they provided mobility support to the convoy in order to make the route trafficable.

That was then us set for the next two weeks... as both the weather and the enemy tried everything it could to stop our progression.

[The Royal Engineers'] Herculean efforts ensured the successful construction of two patrol bases, most of the time under enemy

Capt Dave Glendenning, OPAL 76 fire support team, Royal Artillery

We were in the enemy forces' backyard and they were not prepared to walk away without a fight.

Almost every day we were involved in intense fire-fights ranging from rocket-propelled grenades and small arms 'shoot and scoots' to four-hour battles with the enemy forces as close as 30m.

Following several hours of heavy rain, the ground had turned to a quagmire and we were all up to our ankles in muddy water.

The enemy forces in Zarghun Kalay were professional fighters. The rain kept coming down, several radios stopped working and [at the end of the first day's action] we had taken a number of casualties, including one killed in action.

At first light on day two, there was a concerted effort to quickly and robustly break into the village.

Within minutes of leaving the relative safety of the compound we... came under accurate small arms fire.

The company hunkered down as we... called in two [rocket strikes] to neutralise the target 100m to our north.

With the mud still in the air following the explosion, this was our cue to push forward and occupy the [enemy] compound and establish a foothold.

The enemy forces had been destroyed, yet the compound structure was still very much intact and, remarkably, a cow in the attached courtyard was cracking on with its daily routine.

The tone quickly changed to security, reassurance and stabilisation.

L/Cpl Andy Talbot and Marine George Georgiou, 42 Commando

L/Cpl Andy Talbot, left, and Marine George Georgiou
After numerous heated exchanges with "Terry" (Taleban) during October and November around Lashkar Gah, our chance to hit back came with Op Sond Chara.

Early shaping phases claimed the lives of two of our comrades, Marines Tony Evans and Georgie Sparks, and we were determined to make amends.

Fighting the wind and rain, intelligence had also suggested that there would be a concentration of enemy in the area and it quickly became clear that the battle would be tough.

Almost from the off, the Taleban began to deliver accurate fire into all friendly positions, with small arms, machine guns and Rocket-propelled grenades.

Casualties ensued, fortunately no fatalities, and it soon became obvious to us all that the town wouldn't be captured in the first 24 hours.

Such was the enemy resistance, Apache and US Cobra helicopters, along with the artillery of 29 Commando RA, were called in - finally forcing out "Terry" and bringing a successful end to the battle.

By the 19 December, and with fighting over, local people, free from the Taleban, were able to attend a shura (an Islamic council) and to taste new freedoms at last.

A special thanks must go out to everyone back at home who sent letters, parcels and cards of support. After such a tough period of operations this was greatly appreciated by all, and made Christmas special for everyone out here.

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