Belfast Telegraph

We couldn’t leave Sangin base without coming across a bomb

By RSM Frankie O'Connor, a soldier who served six months in Sangin

I was in Sangin from March 2008 to October 2008. My company was attached to 2 Parachute Regiment battlegroup.

We took over from 40 Commando Bravo Company and the Taliban had been pretty much pushed out to the north and south of the district centre.

Our job was to secure the district centre and to look after the surrounding green zones between a place called FOB (forward operating base) Inkerman and FOB Rob. It was quite a large chunk of real estate for a company group to look after.

I was in charge of 140 men at the main patrol base in Sangin. During my six-month stint the security situation deteriorated so much that patrols came under attack from Taliban insurgents on a daily basis.

It started off relatively safe. There were no real issues and the population seemed to be on-side. Apart from the odd kinetic incident (gunfights) there wasn’t too much going on. But as we started to infiltrate into Taliban strongholds, primarily in the south, and build up new patrol bases, we started to get a lot more friction from the insurgents.

Around August the Taliban started laying IEDs (improvised explosive devices or home-made bombs) regularly. We went from finding one IED a week to finding 24 IEDs in one day. We got to the point where we couldn’t go outside the gate without coming across an IED.

Once we were held up by IEDs the Taliban would attack us while we were fixed in place and kinetic operations went through the roof as well. I think we dealt with 115 IEDs during the month of September and I had one soldier, Ranger Justin Cupples, killed.

But we were lucky. If I was to estimate how many guys should have been killed in my company over that period of time it should have potentially been 15.

I didn’t have any amputees. The most serious injury we sustained was a guy who was flown back to the UK with swelling on the brain because of facial damage. I had another guy with a broken back after being blown up.

One of the projects that we were trying to put in place was the building of a park, another of a road and the re-building a college. The civilian contractors who worked there were constantly being intimidated, kidnapped and even killed in some cases.

Our job was to go in there and secure those locations for an inevitable American handover. It was always the plan for the Americans to re-take over the whole of Helmand.

That’s just part and parcel of Army life and that’s just the way it goes. I think the soldiers who have worked in Sangin have done a tremendous job and it’s testament to them and the lads that have lost their lives that we have this progress. It means we can now move on to another location and do good work somewhere else.

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