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Dmitry Yudo aka Overlord, jack of all trades
David Lister aka Listy, Freelancer and Volunteer

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Dragon Surprise

Musa Qal’eh is a small town in Helmand Province, it was also home to one of the British Army's Forward Operating Bases (FOB), during the Afghanistan War. Dotted around the FOB, at some distance are several patrol bases. To the north of the footprint of control is Mount Musa Qal’eh, which the troops nicknamed Mount Doom, for a very good reason. It was Taliban country. Their territory ran from the mountains to a large wadi that runs north-west. The Taliban were forced into the mountains and away from the town in 2007 when a large force of Afghan National Army supported by British forces attacked the area. Two kilometres west of the wadi is a stone outcrop, known as Roshan Tower. On top of it sits a mobile phone mast, in a flat area no bigger than a tennis court. Due to its 130ft height it also makes a great observation point, so unsurprisingly the British put one of their patrol bases on top of it. 
A US Soldier stops in front of Roshan Tower

In September 2008 the Taliban launched a major attack on the forces stationed at Roshan Tower. For nine days the Taliban assaulted the small base. Inside it a platoon of the Prince of Wales Royal Regiment held out against the battalion strength Taliban assault. Battered by mortars and under attack the British only suffered one man wounded. The men of PWRR had been in a similar situation in Iraq, where they were surrounded and attacked in Basra for a period, so the veterans knew what was to come. 
 After the Taliban attack had been halted, the British forces stationed a Javelin ATGM platoon on top of the tower to provide covering fire out to the missiles 4.75km range. These missiles could be fired at any Taliban attack, and provide quick response covering fire for many of the neighbouring patrol bases, or any patrol outside of its base. The trouble was the Taliban could hear the launch of the missiles and take cover before the missile could reach them. 
In January 2009 the Taliban began another series of assaults. During one of these assaults, suddenly a huge jet of flame leapt from the top of Roshan Tower. Almost instantly later the Taliban positions exploded, much to the confusion and surprise of the attackers. The Taliban so in fear of this named it The Dragon. 

The UK has a long history of not fighting fair, and if the Taliban had any historians they'd know full well that there is a long list of times when the British had manhandled big guns into position on hills and positions where the enemy thought it was impossible to get these artillery pieces. The Napoleonic War, the American Civil War and the Boer War all had incidents of guns being sited in odd positions by the British. The most famous of which is of course the relief of Ladysmith from the Boer War, which resulted in the Field Gun Competition that became immortalised in the UK by its inclusion in the Royal Tournament up until 1999. 

At Roshan Tower a L118 105mm gun had been helicoptered into the base of the tower as part of the normal logistics effort by a Chinook helicopter (called a "Flying Cow" by the Afghanistani's). From there, the gun was dismantled into smaller loads, and in secrecy overnight, was lifted up the side of the tower. While the operation to lift this "light gun" that weighed nearly two tons was going on, Gurkha units mounted patrols in the surrounding area. Despite the rough surface that threatened to crumble under the weight of the gun, by dawn the L118 was camouflaged, in position on top of the mountain with a stack of ammunition. 
An Australian gunner, attached to British forces, fires the Roshan Dragon towards Mount Musa Qal’eh
A L118, fires a round at night.
The advantage of the L118 over the Javelin is that firing the gun direct contact, the shell arrives before the sound of its firing meaning the Taliban had no time to react. From firing to the shell impacting the time is a mere five seconds, when compared to the 30 odd seconds for a maximum range shot from the Javelin. Neighbouring US forces when patrolling the area were impressed by the many holes knocked in Taliban positions, and intelligence reported that the Taliban were genuinely frightened of the moment when the British army would "Bring their Dragon from its lair". 

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