Monday, July 27, 2009
Operation Panther's Claw: Lt Col Stephen Cartwright, CO of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland
First air assualt into key drugs bazaar - 20 June 2009
The Battlegroup was privileged to be given the task of breaking into the Babaji area at the start of Operation Panther’s Claw. We knew the enemy had laid an IED screen to the north of the area so I decided to launch an audacious air assault of 2 aviation strike companies behind the insurgent forward defences.
To achieve tactical surprise, the Battlegroup used 10 Chinook helicopters and inserted 350 men at 3.30 am on 20 June in one wave. It was very successful and we had occupied defensive positions of our own by first light. The remainder of the Battlegroup, in armoured and wheeled vehicles, approached from the north to link up. However, the enemy were watching us and began their assaults from 7am targeting our positions with a mixture of small arms fire (SAF) and rocket propelled grenades (RPG).
These initial attacks delayed our link up but we consolidated our positions and defeated the enemy with our ability to overmatch their weapon systems. Our snipers were particularly effective in these early hours, although we did require support from guided rockets and attack helicopters. B Company to the West secured the compounds that dominated the wadi crossing and A Company to the East cleared the drugs bazaar of 15 IEDs whilst under harassing fire.
It was during this operation that an ANA soldier, Wahid, was tragically killed by an IED as the Company cleared to the extremities of the bazaar. Lance Corporal Stacey Quinn, a medic, was first on the scene, but despite her best efforts he died shortly after the explosion. Despite this setback, we successfully brought in our armoured vehicles, our logistics and the engineer equipment required to build the force protection. The aviation assault was supported by fast air, command helicopters and UAVs and given its complexity was an overwhelming tactical success.
For the next four days we consolidated our bridgehead into the insurgent held territory and pushed them further to the south. The Royal Engineers built a protective ‘Hesco’ Bastion wall across the wadi to control the population and to prevent the insurgents from escaping to the North. It was quickly nicknamed ‘Hadrian’s Wall’. B Company began to establish their operating base by building up the fortifications. Sporadic attacks continued every day and although we were in a defensive posture, the companies pushed forward with aggressive patrols to afford us the initiative that is so vital for a defensive battle.
On the second night, up to 30 insurgents assaulted A Company in the bazaar but were beaten back after a 2-hour engagement. A conservative estimate would suggest that over half of their force was killed in this engagement alone.”
C Company, in their Jackal vehicles, pushed to the West and seized the top of the Shamalan Canal in preparation for the link up with the Welsh Guards. They too had to deal with a determined and persistent enemy who realised that they were losing their dominance of the area.
After the engineer work had been completed, the majority of the Battlegroup extracted to Bastion, leaving B Company to cover the whole area with their 180 personnel. They dominated the area, constantly keeping the enemy on the back foot and won every engagement. More importantly they starting engaging with the local nationals to the north of the wadi and established positive dialogue with the aim of getting them to return to their homes as soon as the fighting had ceased. Our contribution ended when B Company handed over area to No 2 Coy Welsh Guards on 4 Jul.