Christopher Leake – Daily Mail.co.uk Sept. 17, 2006
A senior British Army officer has delivered a disturbing eyewitness account of how his men ran out of ammunition in a ferocious firefight with Taliban rebels in Afghanistan.
His dispatch from the front line in Helmand province will be seen as a damning indictment of the Government's failure to properly equip and support our troops in one of the world's most dangerous war zones.
In a dramatic e-mail, the officer describes in graphic detail how his unit's 7.62mm heavy machine gun ammo ran out as they desperately tried to keep the insurgents at bay. Then they also ran out of mortar rounds.
At the time of the battle between the 3rd Parachute Regiment Battle Group and heavily armed insurgents, the officer said he had not slept for three days nor eaten a hot meal for almost three weeks.
The e-mail - sent 10 days ago to one of the officer's former Army colleagues, senior Tory MP Patrick Mercer - is hugely embarrassing to the Government, which now faces fresh pressure over its handling of the Afghan conflict.
His message reads: "You will remember all of that stuff about being in the line for long periods of time which we never practice properly. You said to us; 'Make sure that your kit is always dried and that you get a chance to take the men's boots off.' All of this is now proving to be essential.
"Two days ago, we ran out of GPMG (General Purpose Machine Gun) ammunition in our forward location. The Taliban were dodging around in great numbers at about 700 metres and firing at us from there from behind all sorts of cover.
"We ran out of LINK (the linked-up ammunition for a general purpose machine gun) and we couldn't get any more in overnight because of the darkness and the weight of fire.
'We haven't had a hot meal for three weeks'
"We were within RPG (rocket propelled grenade) range which they use superbly. We used our mortars to good effect, but again, ammunition ran short."
The officer adds: "I don't know how they arrive at all these numbers of dead" - a reference to claims by the Ministry of Defence that UK troops have killed at least 700 Taliban fighters in the past two-and-a-half months.
"It's impossible to count," the officer says. "I haven't slept for 72 hours and I haven't had a hot meal now for almost three weeks - you get to f****** like the Compo!" (cold, tinned rations). "I'm having the best time!!" the officer adds sarcastically.
The conflict has claimed the lives of 36 British soldiers this year - 20 in the past two weeks alone.
Army commanders say the intensity of fighting in Helmand is of a ferocity not seen since the Second World War and there are now fears among senior officers that British troops will be there for 10 years.
Mr Mercer said: "My concern is crucial supplies of ammunition are not getting through and that no real account has been taken of the threat our boys face. We need more troops there and they have to be armed and equipped properly."
Shadow Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said: "Allowing soldiers to run out of bullets is diabolical. They should have all the equipment they require to carry out the mission and protect themselves."
The shock news comes after claims in Afghanistan about a chronic shortage of helicopters, radios not working and Land Rover armour faults.
The MoD said: "We are unable to investigate this on the details provided. We're not aware of any specific incidents when troops have run out of ammunition.
"Equipping our troops and making sure they have the resources and the means to do their jobs and defend their positions is an absolute priority.”
Last updated 19/09/2006