Four Taleban insurgents appeared at one end of a bridge on Route Cowboys and began to dig a hole for a roadside bomb. Buzzing above them at a height of 9,000ft was a Hermes unmanned aerial vehicle, relaying pictures of the scene to British commanders.
Soon, two Belgian Air Force F16s had flown in and were ready to pulverise the Taleban fighters. Just as they were about to swoop in for the kill there was a shout over the radio: “Stop, hold fire - there's a boy with goats approaching.”
Sure enough, a young Afghan goatherd with a few goats around him was walking towards the bridge. The world seemed to freeze. The F16 pilots remained on alert. The Taleban continued burying their explosives, and with growing frustration British officers watched - in operations rooms within sight of the bridge, in battlegroup headquarters at Forward Operating Base Delhi farther north, and in Camp Bastion, the main base in central Helmand - the goatherd's slow progress.
Route Cowboys runs north to south past a line of mini-patrol bases six miles from Garmsir. The nearest base is Patrol Base Hassan Abad, home of B Company 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment, and the bridge is Bridge Three.
If the insurgents registered the presence of the F16s it did nothing to stop them - two of them continued working while a third began to walk backwards holding a wire and disappeared from view. The fourth, apparently the leader, had left on a motorcycle.
Finally the goatherd was safely clear of the area and the jets were given the order to attack. Rather than dropping a 500lb bomb that would have damaged the bridge, one of the jets came roaring in and strafed the area with 30mm cannon where the two Taleban had nearly finished burying their improvised explosive device (IED). They both died.
The insurgent with the wire had climbed on to a motorbike and the Hermes drone followed him as he drove south, taking photographs that told the F16 pilots where he was heading. The man went into a compound to change his clothes and then drove off again to a rendezvous spot known to be a Taleban command centre. He was allowed to escape.
At 4.30am the next day, 100 soldiers set off from Hassan Abad base towards Bridge Three. They were accompanied by two US Marine bomb-disposal specialists. “Don't use my name, sir, just say I'm from USMCEOD [US Marine Corps Explosive Ordnance Demolition],” one of them, a Texan sporting a heavy-duty pair of sunglasses and who shares a tent with The Times, said.
Progress is painstaking. Overnight it is possible that the Taleban have planted more IEDs. Every patrol “multiple” has a soldier with a metal detector sweeping the ground in front of him as the rest of us follow, knowing that the Taleban are watching from the poppy and wheat fields as the dim light turns to dawn. Hermes 450, with that reassuring and familiar buzzing engine, watches our progress. ..."
In addition to the jets in Kandahar, Belgium has had since 2002 a small battalion-sized contingent (around 300 troops) guarding Kabul International Airport, plus a 25-strong demining detachment in Kunduz. Neither are combat missions, although the demining job is very hazardous, and the detachment, embedded with the Germans in Afghanistan's north, frequently comes under fire. So far the troops in Kabul and Kunduze have been incredibly lucky, since there have been only wounded and no fatalities. By contrast, the "safe" operation in Lebanon's south, where some 400 Belgian troops, primarily deminers, are stationed, has claimed several lives as well as wounded.
Since a couple of months however, some 70 paratroops, acting as military instructors to the Afghan Army, are engaged in ground combat missions. Serving in an OMLT team (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team), they assist ANA patrols. Here too, near complete MoD blackout. One month ago however news leaked out that around 50 paratroops and perhaps one hundred Afghan soldiers were ambushed for four hours by a strong Taliban combat unit:
Belgian soldiers deployed in northern Afghanistan have been involved in two armed incidents in the region of Kunduz during the past week. Nobody was injured, while several rocket attacks targeted their camp, said the Ministry of Defense on Friday. These incidents occurred on 19 and 20 July, stated the spokesman of the ministry, during a weekly briefing
On 19 July, the team of instructors in charge of supervising a brigade of the Afghan army - an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) in NATO jargon - was several times “taken under insurgency fire”, "they said, stressing that nobody was injured. A Belgian vehicle type MPPV (Multipurpose Protected Vehicle) “Dingo II" has suffered minor damage ", according to MoD. The same day, two Afghan soldiers were wounded when their vehicle was hit by an IED (Improvised Explosive Device, IED).
The next day, the Belgian OMLT currently composed mainly of members of the regiment of Ardenne Chasseurs of Marche-en-Famenne, were again been shot at, without any injuries nor property damage this time, while supporting the 2nd Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA), engaged in Operation Uqab "(aka" Eagle "or" Adler ") destined to create a" stable and secure environment "in the Kunduz region for the presidential election on 20 August.
This operation, which should last about a week, occurs under Afghan command and involves some 300 German soldiers with tanks and more than 800 Afghan soldiers and 100 Afghan police, according to the German army, who have a strong presence in the region in the framework of the international Security Assistance Force (ISAF) led by NATO.
Mind you, I had to get this from a German site. Our current Minister of Defense has to be careful with news of Belgian combat operations lest not the socialists and greens get into violent spasms upon hearing some Taliban gets a broken toenail in a confrontation with our troops.
Be that all as it may... for me it's a strange feeling that finally, almost eight years after 9/11, my country is actually conducting real combat missions 8,000 kloms from home. And at the same time, a closet socialist is POTUS, and the city of New York has instituted two islamic holidays.
It's a weird world.