FIERCE fighting involving South Yorkshire soldiers has opened up a new front in the battle to drive Taliban insurgents from civilian areas of Afghanistan.
Members of Third Battalion The Rifles, which recruits from Sheffield, Barnsley, Doncaster and Rotherham, are stationed around Nad-e Ali district in Helmand.
They have experienced prolonged battles, lasting up to 12 hours at a time, with close shaves including soldiers being shot in their helmets, armour and even GPS wristwatches.
But none of the soldiers from 3 Rifles has been killed or seriously injured since their deployment in April.
The Star witnessed an eight-hour operation to keep insurgents away from a main road in Nad-e Ali so a bomb clearance team could remove suspected improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
South of the road, which runs along the Neb Canal waterway, the area has been cleared of insurgents and has become safe enough for civilians to the extent that a weekly market is now being held.
But the Taliban continue to operate in the north and the main road has been targeted by bombers.
The soldiers from 3 Rifles, based at Patrol Base Folad, a mud-walled compound north of the main road, and at much smaller patrol base, Checkpoint Qudrat, aimed to drive the Taliban back so bomb disposal experts could work unimpeded.
However, the insurgents were up for a fight.
An initial patrol sent out to recce the area north of the road at breakfast time came under fire.
Rounds crackled between the sides just a few hundred metres from Folad where other soldiers were still eating their cereal.
There was a loud bang as British mortars sent smoke into the area, giving the patrol cover to return to base.
Soon afterwards, the main group of around 50 soldiers from 3 Rifles headed out and came under waves of enemy fire.
Troops fired back taking cover behind numerous walls and ditches.
Rifleman Daniel Armitage, aged 20, from Kendray, Barnsley, was among them.
“We got enemy contact quite a few times, once when we were going across open ground with little cover. A few rounds came over the tops of our heads,” he said.
Serjeant Andrew Hill, of Rfn Armitage’s platoon, added: “At one point, we had intelligence about insurgent positions and moved towards them. We were engaged within five minutes.”
At one point the soldiers became trapped and needed back-up.
He said: “We were later engaged by the enemy again and took cover around an alleyway. Apache attack helicopters were called in to scare off the enemy so we could move again.”
The team sent to detect for mines in the road discovered a 20 kilogramme bomb. While the 3 Rifles soldiers soaked up Taliban resistance, a controlled explosion was carried out to destroy the IED. After the blast, which could be heard for miles, the road was back open and soon afterwards civilians were using it to cycle or walk to mosque for evening prayers.