‘Taliban hung our mates’ body parts from trees during six months of hell’: Horrific testimony of Marines fighting in ‘Death Valley’
- Marines tried for murder of Taliban insurgent describe their ‘tour from hell’
- One tells court martial that around 20 friends were will or maimed there
PUBLISHED: 22:37, 8 November 2013 | DailyMail
In a bleak corner of Helmand, only twisted, rusting barbed wire, rubble and broken blocks of concrete remain of what were once the British checkpoints of Kamiabi and Omar.
Yet two years ago they were considered vital to British operations and security in the region – a buffer against the Taliban, and during the summer of 2011, home to the Marines of 42 Commando.
They provided basic protection in a Taliban stronghold area known as ‘Death Valley’ and through the long hot months of the 2011 ‘fighting season’, clashes were so intense it was compared to the Zulu wars.
At its worst, it was a daily lottery for survival.
At one point during the six-month ‘tour to hell’, the body parts of British troops blown up by improvised explosive devices were hung in trees as trophies by Taliban fighters to taunt the Marines as they patrolled.
Some Marines have said they were also so concerned about running out of ammunition that they collected Taliban weapons and ammunition.
Indeed in the words of Marine C – one of the three man tried for the Afghan’s murder: ‘It is a s*** place out there, it’s not nice. It’s just a dirty, s***** war.’
Marine C told the court martial that around 20 friends had been killed or maimed during the six-month tour, including a popular young officer and a Marine who had previously won a Military Cross for courage under fire. He was blown up while searching a mud-walled compound.
Marine A, a hardened veteran of previous Afghan tours as well as Iraq, said other comrades had suffered ‘life changing’ injuries in the blast and described the effect the deaths had on the commandos.
He said they were not always able to recover the body parts of dead or maimed comrades. ‘It had quite a harsh affect. It’s not a nice thing for the lads.
‘Close friends they have lived with have been killed and parts of their bodies are displayed as a kind of trophy for the world to see.’
Marine B said he had been under attack ‘every single day’ and there had been ten casualties in one 24-hour period.
‘My friend’s legs had been put in a tree, I picked up my mate’s brains. I have no good memories of that tour. My way of coping with that was to put it away in a box at the back of my head.’
Uncertainty haunted daily patrols along routes pitted with booby traps and expertly buried bombs that could be triggered by a footfall.
Ambushes were an all-too-frequent danger. Locals who waved their greeting at one point would become an enemy to be feared the next – it was a common Taliban tactic for an attacker in a field to take a shot at patrols and then hide his weapon, picking up a farm tool instead.
‘Smiled in the back,’ was how one tour veteran termed it.
Some of the insurgents were called ‘ten dollar Taliban’. Marine A explained: ‘You find that fighting-age males would take part in the fighting season when the poppy season comes to an end and they are quite prepared to take ten dollars to fight.’
A tipping point came in August 2011, when a popular Marine, James Wright, was badly wounded in an attack in which the Taliban tried to overrun a commando base.
Marines on patrol were horribly outnumbered. After a fierce battle they managed to get back to Kamiabi but the emboldened and reinforced Taliban attacked again and again.
Marine Wright, 23, was hit by a grenade and seriously wounded. The patrol commander called in air support from Apache helicopter gunships and the enemy dispersed. A Chinook helicopter flew Marine Wright to Camp Bastion, but he died.
Colleagues are said to have been furious they had been left so close to being overrun.
In the following weeks there were more attacks. The key concerns of the Marines were said to be their limited numbers, their lack of air support and overwhelmingly a feeling of isolation.
Marine C said when he left for Afghanistan he was ‘keen for action’ but his attitude altered as the tour progressed. ‘It soon became apparent this was not a game,’ he said. ‘I was drained, very stressed and constantly in fear, really.’
Marine A said humour like that captured on the video clips by fellow Marines – including swearing at the expense of Afghan nationals – could be seen as ‘inappropriate’ to those back in Britain.
‘But when you are facing on a daily basis people trying to kill you, you inject humour as a coping mechanism as otherwise I would say things would be very dark.’
It was against this backdrop of exhaustion, fear and loathing that the murder took place, with the contempt felt by some summed up by Marine A as he shot the fighter and said: ‘Shuffle off this mortal coil, you c***. It’s nothing you wouldn’t do to us.’