Sunday, June 14, 2009

A wonderful story from Afghanistan

When a Dutch soldier was recognised for bravery in Afghanistan, the true role of the Australian troops was disclosed, writes Tom Hyland

A VEIL of official secrecy shrouding combat involving Australian SAS troops in Afghanistan has been lifted for the first time, revealing details of harrowing fighting that is still withheld by the Australian military.

The Sun-Herald has obtained a graphic account of desperate encounters in which Australian and Dutch troops have been surrounded, outnumbered and almost overrun by Taliban fighters.

The Australian Defence Force keeps a tight grip on all information about special forces troops, especially the SAS. But an official report on a Dutch soldier's bravery award paints a detailed picture of the intense battles they have fought.

The Netherlands Defence Ministry report tells how in one action Australian and Dutch troops were saved only when the Dutch soldier directed a devastating air attack on Taliban forces just 30 metres away - a range that put the allied soldiers at risk from "friendly fire" and showered them with shrapnel.

The ADF has released only a brief and vague outline of the fighting that took place in 2006.

In contrast, the Dutch report details weeks of ferocious and chaotic combat in which up to 300 Taliban were killed, with the loss of only one coalition soldier.

The report was compiled to coincide with the presentation to Dutch commando Marco Kroon of his country's highest military award, the Military Order of William, for acts of "bravery, skill and loyalty" in Afghanistan's Oruzgan province. Captain Kroon is the first soldier to receive the award in 54 years.

His bravery included repeatedly risking himself to help beleaguered Australians.

SAS troops who served with Captain Kroon in 2006 were present when Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands presented the award in The Hague last month.

The ADF refused permission for The Sun-Herald to interview any of the Australian soldiers involved.

The 50-page Dutch report includes details that go far beyond anything released by the ADF. In September 2006, when ADF chiefs gave what they said was a "full brief" on special forces operations in Afghanistan over the previous year, the Dutch were not mentioned.

Captain Kroon's award commendation highlights six actions between April and July 2006, all involving Dutch commandos and the SAS.

The combined force entered Taliban strongholds in the Chora and Baluchi areas, north-east of the provincial capital, Tarin Kowt. Their aim was to prevent the Taliban attacking Tarin Kowt, where Dutch and Australian reconstruction troops were setting up a new base.

The first action was in late April, when 29 troops in then-Lieutenant Kroon's unit, called Task Force Viper, were sent with a similar number of SAS to the village of Surk Murgab, 15 kilometres from Tarin Kowt. The coalition troops came under intense fire, forcing them to call in air support.

Four days later the Dutch and SAS returned. Again they came under heavy fire, forcing them to stop the action. But then things went badly for the SAS - one of their vehicles got stuck and the Taliban "brought heavy fire to bear on the hapless Australians".

In response, the Dutch diverted the Taliban's attention with intense fire. This enabled the Australians to recover their vehicle, but it also brought the Dutch under constant return fire.

A month later, the Dutch and Australians moved further north into the Chora valley. This time they were caught in the open. "They, too, were taking heavy fire and were about to break off the action when one of their commandos was hit. Lieutenant Kroon did not hesitate for a moment and ordered his men to move forward again."

This drew fire onto the Dutch, allowing the Australians to evacuate their wounded comrade. (The ADF did not release details of this casualty at the time.)

Two weeks later, they were back in Chora. Again they encountered the Taliban, with the Australians taking the brunt. In an open, unarmoured vehicle, Lieutenant Kroon raced towards the Australians. His vehicle rolled and when he and his crew crawled from it "mortars and shells hit right next to it".

Tougher fighting came as the joint force moved to block a Taliban supply route. The area provided "outstanding cover for ambushes" and they came under heavy fire from close range, with one shot taking out the sights on Lieutenant Kroon's weapon.

He then led his troops to the rear - a precarious move, as his troops had to move through Australian positions in the middle of a firefight, creating a high risk of the allies firing on each other.

"The entire unit and the Australians finally made it to an emplacement," the report says. "With the temperature rising to more than 50C the platoon fought the Taliban in the full sun for approximately eight hours … When the smoke had cleared, 13 Taliban had been killed."

The final act came in mid-July, alongside an Australia-led offensive code-named Operation Perth, aimed at driving the Taliban out of the Chora valley.

In pitch black on the night of July 12, the Dutch and Australians found themselves "fighting for their lives" - surrounded, out-numbered, their ammunition running out.

However, the Taliban were within 30 metres of the allies who risked being hit by the US aircraft's withering fire as Lieutenant Kroon directed the air attack virtually onto his own position.

The operation was a great success, the report says. The pass entering the valley was opened and the coalition troops had freedom of movement.

The Dutch report includes a photo of the SAS troops presented to the Dutch commandos, inscribed "To our brave mates".

The ADF would not comment on whether Captain Kroon has been recommended for an Australian medal, saying the award nomination process was confidential.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is why these men are LEGENDS above other men, thank God for them,