Driving the Taleban off Nipple Hill - again
January 30, 2007
Michael Evans in Kajaki
* Insurgents return to key position
Royal Marines came under Taleban rocket attack in Kajaki overnight, and at dawn yesterday 16 insurgents carrying rifles and rocket-propelled grenades could be seen scurrying from their firing position.
Not an unusual event in Kajaki, rated as one of the most dangerous places in Afghanistan, except that the attack came from a position that the Ma- rines believed they had cleared of Taleban two weeks ago.
On January 13 M Company 42 Commando fought for eight hours in what became known among the Marines as the Battle of Nipple Hill, so called because of the topography they were fighting over. The objective was to clear the area of Taleban, kill as many as possible and remove the threat that the hill and nearby village compound posed to the British troops. Now the Taleban are back, two weeks after the ferocious fighting that led to the death of one of the Marines.
Marine Tom Curry died after being hit by a hail of bullets after turning the corner of a compound building. The fatal shots were fired by a Pakistani fighter, identified by documents and currency on his body after he had been shot.
Marines from 10 Troop M Company, with a few from 11 Troop, had charged up Nipple Hill to clear the position, which had been used as a Taleban mortar sighting location, before heading down into the compound under heavy fire. Captain William Mackenzie-Green, leading the troop forward, had told his men: “Fix bayonets, let’s go.”
Using radio scanners, the Marines picked up the following conversation on the Taleban communications: “The British are coming,” one said. “How many?” was the reply. “All of them.” In fact there were only 20, Marine Curry being one of them, although 12 Marines from 12 Troop were there, too, providing fire support from a ridge with heavy machineguns in four converted Land Rovers, called Wmiks (weapons-mounted installations kit).
The eight-hour battle was deemed a success. Sixteen Taleban were killed and it drove home to the insurgents that whatever action they took they were facing opposition with vastly superior firepower.
But at the end of the fighting, none of the Marines could stay behind to hold the positions. There are too few of them at Kajaki — a company of little more than 100 — helping to protect the centrepiece of Western reconstruction projects, new hydroelectric turbines at Kajaki dam. A fortnight later, on Sunday night, a 107mm Chinese rocket was launched from the village of Khak-e-Jahannam, behind Nipple Hill.
The rocket flew over the Marines’ heads. You could hear a whistle “woosh” sound. It was a reminder that the Taleban have a habit of returning after they have been defeated in battle. Victory for the Marines, at considerable human cost, did not last.
Yesterday at 5am the Marines fired more than 40 mortar rounds and heavy machinegun fire to try to hit the 16 Taleban spotted leaving the compound. But they managed to escape.
The threat posed by Taleban insurgents sneaking back to old firing positions and returning to areas from where they were supposed to have withdrawn, has been underlined by the experience of Musa Qala in the north of the province.
British troops withdrew from the outlying town after an agreement with the elders, supported by the Afghan Government, for the counter-Taleban security mission to be handed over to the Afghan police. Eight British soldiers lost their lives defending the town’s district centre.
President Karzai of Afghanistan called yesterday for a start to peace talks with Taleban rebels. “While we are fighting for our honour, we still open the door for talks and negotiations with our enemy who is after our annihilation and is shedding our blood,” he told thousands of worshippers who had gathered to celebrate the Shia festival of Ashura.