Royal Marine Commandos are believed to have killed up to 10 Taliban fighters yesterday following a brief but ferocious battle in southern Afghanistan. The Marines were conducting a foot patrol six miles east of the town of Gereshk in the southern province of Helmand when they were ambushed by insurgents armed with 81mm mortars and automatic weapons. The attack provoked a fierce response by the commandos, who fired more than 2,000 rounds during the 25-minute battle. No Marines were injured.
It was the first time the Marines, who took over control of Forward Operating Base Price (FOB Price) from the Paras a month ago, had been involved in a sustained "contact" with the Taliban.
Senior officers said the action disproved press reports at the weekend that the Marines had been confined to their makeshift barracks at Camp Bastion because commanders were too afraid to engage the Taliban.
"We are conducting normal military operations to make the province secure," said a senior Army officer. "It is ludicrous to suggest they spend their time just sitting around watching DVDs. This is a tough mission and they are entitled to rest when they are back at base."
Major Ewen Murchison, commander of J Company, who was leading the patrol, said that in the initial stages of the battle none of his men could identify the Taliban positions until they started communicating with each other using mirrors.
He said: "There was a degree of chaos for the first 10 to 15 minutes until things calmed down. If you come under effective enemy fire the first thing you have to do is identify the target and anyone who identifies the target is clear to engage it.
"We were mortared first from the north, then from the south, then we identified the group with mirrors, some of whom were clearly armed and we neutralised them."
Major Murchison, who has seen action in Bosnia and on previous tours of Afghanistan, said: "We engaged them with all of our weapon systems. We employed our.5 heavy calibre machine guns and 7.62mm machine guns and we neutralised two of the three positions."
Although the tempo of operations in Helmand has slowed considerably since the Royal Marines took over from the Paras at the end of September, commanders believe that more attacks are likely because the number of Taliban in the area has grown in recent weeks following the success of British forces in the north of the province.