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Army veteran from Northern Ireland reveals horror of battle with Taliban

'I accepted that I could die,' says NI man caught in bloody siege

By Cate McCurry

Published 09/08/2016

Belfast soldier Paul Johnston in scenes from the Channel 4 documentary to be shown next week
Belfast soldier Paul Johnston in scenes from the Channel 4 documentary to be shown next week
Belfast soldier Paul Johnston in scenes from the Channel 4 documentary to be shown next week
Belfast soldier Paul Johnston in scenes from the Channel 4 documentary to be shown next week

An army veteran from Northern Ireland - who fought in one of the most intense battles of recent British military history - has spoken of how he was trapped in an isolated compound while the Taliban mounted several attacks every day.

Paul Johnston (31), from Belfast, joined the army when he left school at the age of 16 and was sent to Afghanistan 10 years ago with the Royal Irish Regiment's 'Easy Company'.

A small number of soldiers were sent to the remote desert town of Musa Qala in Helmand Province, in the south of the country, where, for more than 50 days, they were trapped in a small compound - out-gunned, outnumbered, and at the mercy of the Taliban.

Paul, who left the army in August 2011 and now works in security in Scotland, said there were many occasions when he thought he was going to die, but that he grew to accept that outcome.

He explained: "We were under no illusions of what was happening when we went there; we had been told some of the things that were going on.

"We were told that the Taliban were difficult to see but, when you did see them, to 'drop' them which means put a few rounds in their chest. I wasn't scared the first time we went out to Afghanistan because I was too young to understand it.

"All I wanted to do was go out and fight, I never thought about the consequences or anything that would happen after. I accepted that I could die out there."

He explained how they were surrounded by rebels who attacked the compound up to 10 times a day with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, and were bombarded with mortars and rockets during the siege.

On one of the worst days, a mortar landed in the compound and hit two soldiers. One suffered horrific injuries while the other was killed instantly. Paul had the task of wrapping up the soldier's body.

"I had to take his helmet off and it was like a sieve from the amount of bullet holes in it. There wasn't much left of his head. We had no body bags so I had to put him in a sleeping bag."

The former soldier and others at the compound were left completely under-resourced, and were forced to drink out of a well after they ran out of water and rations.

He claimed they weren't supplied with the correct equipment, including night vision goggles, which left them feeling vulnerable.

"It's not until after I left that I realised how under-resourced we were. We had to survive and deal with it," he said.

"There were many times I thought I was going to die but I just accepted it.

"There was no point in worrying about it, even though I didn't want to die."

  • Paul features in a Channel 4 documentary, Heroes of Helmand: The British Army's Great Escape, which will be broadcast on Tuesday, August 16, at 9pm.

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