SHELE Kalay is a small village in the Helmand ‘green zone’ – the agricultural area where most of the civilian population lives.
But international forces believed that the settlement was being used for sinister purposes by the Taliban.
Suspicions were confirmed when soldiers from Third Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment arrived to find numerous tell-tale signs of improvised explosive devices.
Soldiers are trained to look for ‘ground sign’ such as recently disturbed patches to indicate where items have been buried – as most IEDs are hidden beneath the ground and activated by pressure plates or remotely by wire.
Lance Corporal Andrew Smart, aged 26, from Kendray, Barnsley, serving with 3 Yorks, said the soldiers found ‘IEDs absolutely everywhere’ at Shele Kalay – slowing their progress.
LCpl Smart was with best friend Corporal Jason Barnes, 25, in the protection group for Lt Colonel Zac Stanning, commanding officer of 3 Yorks, when the village was raided.
The devices were marked and soldiers took detours to avoid them while making their way around compounds.
LCpl Smart said: “When we set off, a group of Americans started firing from the opposite side of the village to where we were heading, to create a diversion for insurgents.”
Troops parked and attempted to head into Shele Kalay on foot.
Soldiers asked villagers about the explosives discovered but residents said they had not been aware of them.
When 3 Yorks withdrew from the village in their armoured vehicles, one hit an IED and was damaged.
The next day, the commanding officer’s makeshift operations room at the camp was attacked while he was deciding the soldiers’ next move with the troops returning fire on suspected enemy positions.
LCpl Smart, a vehicle gunner and linguist speaking Arabic and Pashto - the main language in southern Afghanistan - said: “We were apprehensive during the mission but had to stay focused at all times.”
Cpl Barnes, who drove one of the armoured vehicles, added: “Once we had returned to base we felt like we’d achieved something – but we were shattered.”
The operation at Shele Kalay was supported by other troops including Private Stuart Simpson, from Dinnington – whose father and brother work at The Star’s printing press.
Pte Simpson, 33, who helps run the radio network between troops, said: “My role was to ensure the soldiers on the ground could speak to each other as well as gathering information about what was going on during the operation.”