HeadLine: WAR ON TERROR: SCOTS SQUADDIES FOIL ROCKET PLOT
The Mirror, 14/05/2002, p4
by SHAUN MILNE & TOM NEWTON DUNN, at Bagram Airbase, Afghanistan
HERO Scots squaddies foiled a deadly rocket attack on one of their
bases in Afghanistan, the Daily Mirror can reveal.
Arbroath-based Royal Marines discovered two booby-trapped 107mm rockets
trained on their positions.
The Chinese rockets were found by a local warlord around 7km away from
a staging post used as a logistical support base.
Lt Col Ben Curry, at Bagram Airbase in Afghanistan, revealed they were
un-manned and rigged up to an improvised mortar base with a crude water
The water would have dripped out of a container and, once it was empty,
a circuit would have been completed and the rockets fired at the base.
Lt Col Curry said: “It was a primitive timer. But it was a serious
“We have since withdrawn from the area, as we had planned to do before
The large rockets were believed to be just hours away from being
launched on Operation Snipe’s Forward Observation Base.
They could have landed on up to 100 Royal Marines with devastating
Last night, the commander of British combat forces in Afghanistan was
forced to admit the 16-day long Operation Snipe was an operational
Brigadier Roger Lane said the search and destroy mission was intended
to route out hiding al-Qaeda and Taliban forces and deny them the
difficult mountain terrain as a base.
They also hoped to disrupt a key supply route at the Chamura Valley in
Paktika province, south eastern Afghanistan.
The 1,000 exhausted troops led by 600 Royal Marines of 45 Commando
arrived back at their HQ at Bagram Airbase down-hearted yesterday,
without any contact at all with the enemy.
Their only ‘kill’ was the destruction of a massive arms dump in a cave
network last Friday.
In a press conference at Bagram Airbase last night, Brigadier Lane was
forced to admit:
THAT the force went into the Chamura Valley with “little to no
specific intelligence the enemy was there”.
THAT “it’s not impossible that al-Qaeda could have fled” and escaped
the force in small groups of twos and threes.
THAT al-Qaeda fighters could have “blended into the local
population”, and still even be there.
THAT “it’s potentially possible” that al-Qaeda fighters could
actually go back to the ground that was once the Mujahideen’s former
stronghold and reoccupy it.
But he insisted: “I believe that our objectives have been achieved.
“In doing so we have delivered a significant blow to the ability of
al-Qaeda to plan, mount and sustain terrorist operations in Afghanistan
“It’s true to say that we did not encounter the enemy during this
“From a strategic perspective this is an encouraging sign.
“The fact that al-Qaeda had been forced to abandon one of the most
strategically well-placed and easily-defended locations in Afghanistan
speaks volumes for the military and psychological impact of the
operations.” Paying tribute to the hard work of the commandos on the
ground and the RAF Chinook pilots and support crews in the air,
Brigadier Lane added: “The British public should be proud of them. I
But 3 Commando Brigade chief Lane, 48, was dealt an impossible deck of
cards for the mission, military sources said last night.
One told The Daily Mirror: “The substantial failures of Snipe are not
Brigadier Lane’s fault.
“He is the victim of higher powers here. He has been set up to take the
And explaining why joint coalition chief on the ground, US Major
General Franklin Hagenbeck, was unusually absent from the press
conference, the source added: “Why do you think none of the American
commanders who sent him on the mission would come out and take any
questions from the Press today?
“It’s because they are the ones who set him the impossible parameters.”
Brigadier Lane was given a severe slap across the knuckles by Whitehall
mandarins last week after his outspoken comments on the war in
Afghanistan being “all but won”, defence sources have said.
And, in an apparent backtrack to the suggestions he made last week,
Brigadier Lane revealed that his troops would stay out in Afghanistan
for the full 90 days announced initially by Defence Secretary Geoff
Hoon in the House of Commons in March.
The full 1,700-strong Taskforce Jacana – led by the 600 Royal Marines
of 45 Commando Arbroath – will essentially exist in a contingency role
in case another pitched battle with al-Qaeda and Taliban renegades
emerges, he said.
After a short break this week, the commandos will be sent out on new
operations which are expected to be on a much smaller scale.
Brigadier Lane also said that he believed many al-Qaeda fighters were
now hiding out in Pakistan and “that is a concern for everybody”.
Explaining the stay, the Brigadier explained: “We should always be
prepared for potential combat operations”.
But privately, Royal Marine officers have already expressed severe
doubts to the Daily Mirror over whether their men still have a serious
role to play in Afghanistan.
One mid-ranking officer, who did not want to be named, said: “If we
can’t do what we are the best at doing, war fighting, then we shouldn’t
“If in the horrible scenario that we start taking casualties without
any obvious results on the ground, the politicians who are keeping us
here are going to have a hell of a lot of explaining to do.”
Not withstanding the dangerous mountain terrain that has already
claimed four casualties through altitude sickness or scorpion stings,
the country is also one of the most land-mined areas in the world.
Even Bagram Airbase is littered with hidden anti-personnel mines and
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