Siege of Musa Qala - Siege Renewed

Siege Renewed

Taliban attacks resumed, using every weapon in their arsenal, including machine guns, RPGs, mortars and Chinese-made 107mm rockets. The coalition forces, now consisting of 140 Danish troopers and 38 Royal Irish Rangers, were hemmed into the district centre. The Danish squadron, known as the Griffins, had eight .50 cal heavy machine guns mounted on the bases sangars, giving them an all-round field of fire, and built ramps for their armoured vehicles so that they could shoot over the compound walls. Added to the Royal Irish's two 81 mm mortars, and coalition air support, they were sufficient to keep the Taliban at bay. The mortars proved particularly effective in dislodging the insurgents who sheltered in nearby buildings.

On August 12, Major Johannesen announced to a relieved garrison that they would be evacuating their exposed position. British General David Richards, who had taken command of the ISAF on August 1, had expressed his dissatisfaction with the "platoon house" strategy. However, the local authorities feared that Musa Qala would fall to the Taliban, and the Helmand governor appealed to the prime minister of Afghanistan. Under political pressure, the ISAF presence was prolonged, much to the puzzlement of the ISAF garrison, who observed that the danger posed to casualty evacuation helicopters meant that coalition patrols in the town had been curtailed, leaving it completely under Taliban control, except for the district centre.

After four weeks presence, the Griffins were withdrawn from Musa Qala. They were replaced by the Barossa platoon of the Royal Irish Regiment, and an ad hoc company headquarters formed from 3 PARA personnel, led by Major Adam Jowett. Within the Task Forces order of battle, the new unit took the letter E, and thus became known as "Easy Company". The Danes had become suspicious of "Coco" and his relations with the insurgents, so the resident police force were replaced by 70 non-Pashtun officers from Northern Afghanistan, who were free of tribal links with the local population that had cast a doubt on the loyalty of their predecessors. "Operation Atomi", involving more than 500 troops, was conducted on August 25, in order to reinforce the Musa Qala police force.

The departure of the Griffins led to a weakening of the bases defenses,as Easy Company now had only two .50 cal machine guns and nine 7.62 mm GPMGs. The Taliban got wind of the decrease in coalition combat power and began launching probing attacks against the district centre. On several occasions, insurgents crawled up to the compound walls and had to be driven back with hand grenades. On August 26, an insurgent group, that reports later estimated at 150, launched a massed attack on the district centre. The attack died down after an airstrike by an A-10, but began again at 4:55 the next day, and lasted until 7:00 am. During the firefight Lance-Corporal Peter Hetherington was killed, as well as several Taliban, whose bodies were left laying across the street until, by tacit agreement, the insurgents were allowed to retrieve them.

By this time, the Taliban frontal attacks had failed with heavy loss, and their supply lines were being interdicted by D squadron HCR, who operated in Mobile Operations Groups in the desert. For a time, the insurgents were forced to fall back on long-distance strikes with mortars and rockets. On September 1, one such mortar attack killed Ranger Anare Draiva, and mortally wounded Corporal Paul Muirhead of the Royal Irish Regiment.

On September 2, six more British troops were injured, and three days later, the Taliban once again tried to storm the base, but were repelled by the defenders with air support from Harriers and A-10s. On September 6, a casevac Chinook was flown into Musa Qala to evacuate two wounded soldiers who had suffered shrapnel wounds from mortar rounds, but the Taliban were expecting the move, and opened a heavy fire at the helicopter, forcing it to turn back. On returning to Camp Bastion, the crew found that their aircraft had been hit by four rounds, one of which had almost severed a rotor blade. Another casevac mission was flown into Musa Qala later the same day, but this time it was escorted by Apaches, A-10s and an AC-130 Spectre gunship, that suppressed the Taliban, enabling the Chinook to complete its mission.

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