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Transcript of interview with brothers Captain David Broomfield and Captain Simon Broomfield, Royal Anglian Regiment, June 2010

Captain David Broomfield
My first tour in Afghanistan was from April to October 2007. I was in B Suffolk Company, 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment and I was platoon commander of 6th Platoon.
A lot of people had been in the Army and been in Northern Ireland and never fired a shot and never been shot at and everyone essentially asks themselves, ?How am I going to react when I get shot at?? It?s a little bit ?sick? fascinating when everyone thinks, ?Wow, I?d like to have it happen to me just so I know?, and this seemed like the chance to find out.
The training was not particularly brilliant when you look back on it so we deployed out there not quite knowing what to expect in Afghanistan. It was hot when we got there ? about 40 degrees during the day. I went out with the Royal Marines to the base at Fort Porag? Just outside the town of Gereshk. It was the first clearance of Sang and everybody had gone. The Taliban had gone, the local nationals had gone and there was no-one there so we drove in there pretty much unhindered. At night we parked up, built some defensive positions, sat there for three days and there were some bombs dropped but I think they were more in hope rather than in any actual confirmation of any enemy being there. And that kind of sums up what the attitude was in that we didn?t really think what we were doing.
Then we came back and prepared for our first battle-group operation which was Op Silicon. And that was quite interesting because we?d all gone out there and been out on the ground patrolling, not knowing what it was like and then you hear gunfire and everyone?s really nervous and twitchy and you?re getting used to how you are going to manoeuvre in the green zone because it?s the first time you are there.

Please can you explain what the ?green zone? is?

The green zone is the area of vegetation and irrigated land inside of the River Helmand and it?s a mixture of compounds, mud-brick houses, walls, ditches ? quite deep ditches. It?s very difficult to manoeuvre in by anything other than foot and even on foot it takes a long time. It becomes very challenging and you end up having to move quite carefully through it.

At the time we didn?t have to worry about IEDs (Improvised Explosive Devices), and we didn?t have to worry about where we were putting our feet. I spread my platoon out and realised that I couldn?t talk to anybody except for the section that I was with. I?d learnt all those tactics on the ground and nothing could have prepared you for actually being there, doing it, thinking if this had all gone wrong, I can?t even speak to that section. We advanced forward and then the other two platoons came under fire so we did what we?d done in training which was to advance forward to close with the enemy so we could get a position to counter them. But then all our tactics are based on the enemy being in positions that they?re not going to keep moving from and they?re set and dug in.

We moved into a built-up area and there were two or three gunmen that were just popping up shooting at us and we tried to move out and got shot at and couldn?t move because 5 and 7 Platoon were being engaged on the road and they were firing out on both sides. You can?t move into fire so we were stuck in this compound. We did try to push out ?.. ?Let?s go,? flat-footed down the road, moving and breaking into a bombed compound. Kick the door in? on to the next compound. So, as we were about to do that, there was an almighty explosion on the back side of the compound and everyone got blown off their feet. There was dust everywhere and I remember thinking, ?Oh crap, not everyone is going to stand up ? we?ve taken casualties and what are going to do now?? ?Give me a head count, give me a head count, where is everyone?? And all of a sudden all of these people?s heads popped out of the dust cloud and people coughing and spluttering. ?Right we?re not going that way. So we threw a grenade to cover our extraction, popped back out, found my platoon sergeant who was on the other side, covering his nose, ?What happened, Boss, what happened?? ?It must have been an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). It hit some of the rubble on the other side.

Everyone?s fine but we?re not getting out of here; we?re going to fall back. What happened to your nose?? ?Well, I was on the other side of the wall and when the blast went off, it blew all the crap off the wall into my face.? So he had a cut on his nose and we were laughing about that and we came back in to this compound and the question, ?Are we going to move? Are we not going to move? And there was a lot of confusion on the net because the OC (Officer Commanding) was dealing with the fight he was in.
So we ended up sitting there for about six hours. There was sporadic fire coming at us and guys would fire back and it really summed up being in the army. Being in a conflict is 95% boredom, sitting around waiting for stuff to happen, and 5% terror. ?Oh my God, this is going mad, what am I going to do?? And as a commander, the first time you see that, you really feel the pressure ? if I go that way someone could get killed. Ok, am I willing to take that risk or am I best off just sitting here? What am I trying to achieve? If someone gets injured going back there, on the hope I can link up with them and I don?t, then someone?s got injured and I?ve achieved nothing, then you really start to think, ?What am I trying to do and why am I doing it?? It?s risk verses reward ? very much so. Because in the Second World War it was ?we are fighting an enemy and we must take this ground?. Out there we weren?t going to hold this ground and if you don?t have to take the risk, what?s the reward basically?

So we stayed in this compound for quite a time and we started to run out of water and we weren?t going to drink water from the local wells which were poisoned. It?ll make you sick and we all started to run out of water. One of the guys went down with heat exhaustion, body popping and eyes out of the back of his head. We pulled him down and took more water and he recovered and we were on the net talking to the doctor and that was the only way we could coordinate. We couldn?t casevac him out because we couldn?t afford a helicopter and we couldn?t move him down to other vehicles so we had to treat him on the ground. We?d got no back up and you have to get on with it. We just started to drink the well water from the pump that was in the compound and it was really cold and nice and didn?t taste of chemicals and that gave a benefit to the rest of the tour, realising that we could drink out of the wells which reduced the amount of weight we had to carry. The private soldier recovered fine and this was one of the good things we learned ? a lot of the training, a lot of the fuss made about PE (Practical Exercise) injuries, you?re off for six months ? but actually out there you just have to crack on with it. It?s a wonderful thing; they heal themselves and get on with it. Eventually we did get out of the compound again because the Taliban got hit by a couple of 500 pound bombs and they extracted back. We moved up to a ditch by the side of a road where we made a check point and sat there and spent the night just sitting and sleeping by the side of the road till morning and then moved on to the next phase of the operation.

Captain Simon Broomfield - To a large degree, our TR7 tour was a series of quite big ops with a definite individual end-state to be achieved for each operation whereas from October and through back in March our routine, day-to-day, was much more focused on my little area. We had our initial patrol base and we probably wouldn?t patrol more than four kilometres from it. We were up against an enemy that was trying to melt into the population. And also the considerations for us were, if we walk over people?s fields, because we don?t want to get hit by an IED, that?s going to ruin their crop and not all of them grow poppies. It?s a large thing and to be honest they do sell it (heroin) in towns most of the time but that?s the only way they can make money. They?ve been told to grow that crop and they have to do it. So we try to placate them and give them the best opportunity to at least survive and make a bit of money so we try to avoid their fields wherever possible. Obviously, if we ever felt under threat we?d walk in a field and they?d come in and we?d give them a bit of cash for it if we destroyed any crop. We were trying to give a presence on the ground and our job essentially was to patrol but we were always expecting to get shot at, always expecting a device to go off. I would do a lot of sit downs with my chaps with the locals just speaking to them for 5 or 10 minutes chatting to locals or farmers. If we knew who a key leader was in the area, chat to him, find out information that way, build up that whole relationship that if you?re bouncing around places doing a big op you can?t really get.

DAVID - But, one, they didn?t want to talk to us because they were scared of what happens with reprisals. And, two, we didn?t have that much we could offer them because we would be moving out again and a lot of the time they would just leave. We would rock up in an area and all the population would stream out in all different directions and let you know you were going to have a fight so it was quite surreal. You?d spark up, watch the locals leave ? everyone happy, the locals have all left? ? off we go then - and then we?d go in and have our fight and wait up to see if any of the locals come back and try to talk to some of them. The locals would come in again and along with them probably the Taliban. We realised we had to hold ground and the problem with holding ground is that it takes a huge number of troops. It limits the amount of influence. From being under control, or we thought control, of a massive area, including Ghanish, Nawar and areas we?d visit once every month, eventually we went down to having a company billet controlling an area maybe 500 metres to 2 kilometres of wall around itself. Suddenly you?ve lost influence over so much of Afghanistan. You just can?t go there.

SIMON - Holding ground is incredibly difficult and the ground itself was so complex and the compounds so illogically organized that unless you had blokes everywhere you just couldn?t do it ? even the Americans haven?t got enough manpower. Because the Taliban are not as numerous as they were in previous tours, they?re trying to fight us with IEDs rather than with weapons. A lot of them have got metal in them so we carry metal detectors and stuff which stops radio-controlled devices and things like that which are very heavy so blokes are carrying between 80 to maybe 120 pounds and that?s a hell of a lot of weight, especially for someone who may weigh only about 140 pounds. So you patrol quite slowly ? you may only go 8Ks on a patrol and it will take you up to 10 hours or something. If you get in a fire fight you may only go 3 kilometres and be out for 10 hours. It can be frustrating ? when you do it on Salisbury Plain ? it?s a bit like play but on a more technical scale. If someone gets shot ? ?You?ve had your leg blown off? ? and the guys are like ?Cheers ? that?s me out for the next day?. In that situation, they won?t be a part any more so they just want to go to sleep in a wagon or something. But when you?re out there and you think, ?I?ve got these choices ? if that?s not going to absolutely help 100% what I want to achieve and I lose a bloke doing it I won?t be able to live with myself really. Can I justify that to myself? Or his parents??
The MOD has re-created an Afghan village in Thetford which is used for training. When we went in it was full of Afghans and they?d dressed it up so the villages looked exactly like an Afghan village and because we were hurried through the pre-deployment training, we were very clear in our heads that we had to take this seriously from day one. The first time we went out we?d not had the chance, due to time restraints, to patrol even as a section so the guys weren?t 100% sure what noise meant what. By the end of the tour we were walking at normal walking pace because the guys knew exactly what each noise means and they were happy that things move better when you move a bit quicker and you understand your own area.

DAVID - You know they?re clever about where they put their devices. They?ll put them where they know you have to walk or they know a vehicle has to go and there?s no alternative route and you?re looking for ground signs so you can see if anything?s been buried or anything?s been changed. If you get hit by an IED where are you going to extract from? If they?re shooting, where are you going to move to cover? If they put the IED on top of that wall, it?s going to get you as well. They?re very, very good at appreciating ground, knowing where we can and can?t see and they put IEDs in at night or in areas of dead ground and know that we have to clear them and we have to keep going back.

SIMON - The EOD teams out there (Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams) do a fantastic job but there?s never enough of them to get in there and get every IED.

DAVID - They are getting hit and it?s probably the highest risk job. The average casualty figure for a battle group is 20% so about a fifth of the people will expect to get injured in some form although this could be anything from falling off a vehicle to losing a leg. But the EOD guys are working at 50% - half of them are being injured.
As soon as you walk out of a patrol base ? you leave at half two in the morning when it?s pitch black and they won?t be able to see us and our chaps carry something which enables us to hear what the Taliban are saying on their little radios. At first light they?ll be able to see us?. And within five minutes they know ? Yes, they?re leaving now. It?s not worth trying to hide yourself. Get a bit of cover ? they know roughly where you are if you can get a good bit of cover it?s fine but, conversely, they might put an IED in it.

SIMON - It?s just understanding that operations out there now are very time-consuming and very slow. You?d rather take five hours to move a kilometre and have everyone there. It just comes down to taking it piece by piece. You can?t move on from somewhere until you?ve set the conditions for it to look after itself. It?s secure now and we?ll move on to the next bit.

Do the Taliban have the advantage because they know the ground? I was thinking of Vietnam.

DAVID - It?s different from the Vietnam War in that there?s no centralized government you?re fighting against. You have an armed force that has a political doctrine of fighting a long war but a lot of the Taliban don?t know what they want to achieve other than killing infidels, killing members of ISAF (International Security Assistance Force). They say they want to make us leave Afghanistan but it?s not as focused, not as directed as the Vietcong were and the North Vietnamese. It?s a different kind of counter insurgency. The way that they fight is tactically very similar, and may be operationally because they want to use the press but strategically they?re fighting for global jihad and global spread of Islam and Afghanistan is their chosen battle ground. They?re not fighting to win back Afghanistan per se. They start in Afghanistan because they want all the foreigners out. They want to have that insidious control over it and they?re not that fussed about having the responsibility of running the actual country. For some people, I suppose, they hate westerners and just like to do it. You can?t group them all together. It?s not a party line from the top that everyone abides by. People have different motivations. It doesn?t seem like Vietnam, a politically motivated government with a set regime of taking over that country and imposing a communist structure on it. They are fighting for militant Islam, for spreading of Shiah law but not this man is our leader, we will impose our control over the land, this is our cabinet.

Are we, to an extent, trying to impose our culture on them?

SIMON - Where we were, we walked around, spoke very few words of the language ? seven or eight - we were there to speak to the locals, help them to understand that they could trust us and we were there to help them and make their area safe and it was down to the government that comes in once we?ve done our job to how they lived, what their culture should be, whether there be schools. That was their decision to make. We were there to fight for security ? a school or a hospital hasn?t got as much kudos if the military has set it up. Some people won?t agree that ISAF should be there so that school becomes a target, whereas if the government had done it then it?s got far more legitimacy. On my level, on the ground with the locals, we were just there trying to be cheerful people for them, making life a bit safer and making it a bit more secure. The government decides how they run culturally after that.

DAVID - A lot of the policies are difficult for us to discuss because it keeps changing. Things like schools ? they did try building schools and getting teachers organized. There was an army school we opened up ? hooray for us ? then we go away and come back. Teachers are all killed, pupils are all killed. It?s self-defeating; it needs to be set up by the Afghans. That?s the key to embedded partnering. We set the conditions and they do the re-building. They do it and we are just there to help and support them with the security that we can bring.

SIMON - Partnering as well means that if we decide a compound needs to be searched, the ANA (Afghan National Army) soldiers would do it and I?d just go in, in the background. They?d organize the families so culturally ISAF has done nothing ? we?ve not inconvenienced the families, Afghans have done the search. If it was a fire fight situation to clear the compounds, that would be very different. The Afghans are very brave at times but if they see one of their friends get hurt or killed, all of a sudden all wind from their sails disappears so you have to be the people that grab them and tell them that they have to keep on going?.If I wanted information from locals, I would go with my interpreter and do it myself. But the fact that they can have a laugh and a joke with the locals and speak the language, rather than having the message relayed through an interpreter, it means a lot and hopefully they?ll learn from us and we also learn things from them. The two of us together work a lot better than just Afghan forces.

DAVID - You have to understand how they work. They?ve been out there four years - and we?re here for six months. If they don?t want to go out on patrol they won?t. They set the pattern. You say ? ?That doesn?t make any sense to me as a westerner? ? but you just have to go with it. You?ve got to sell them the idea ? they will say, ?Why should I do what he says?? The other thing is we carry a lot of kit ? body armour, helmet, water, a bit of food, night vision, our radios, all this sort of stuff. We carry that stuff even if we expect only to be out for two hours and we leave early in the morning whereas, when we go out on patrols with the ANA, we get to half eleven and they?ll say we need our lunch now. They carry a rifle and body armour, probably not a helmet ? though they started to after a few IEDs went off among them. They carry a minimum. They don?t even carry water ? if they need some, they?ll drink from a well. They?ll go and have some lunch and then meet with us afterwards. Their way of operating is very different to ours. It?s easy for us to go out for six months and then come back to England and chill out for four weeks. A bit of leave and then six months off before training begins again. They don?t get this ? a new unit comes out and they don?t get the rest period. It?s a matter of adapting to their culture. Often they will achieve more by doing less.

SIMON - That knowledge of the population and them knowing you is fundamental. That whole idea of making sure they were aware of what ISAF is and that we are there for them, that we?re not going to leave them in the lurch and hopefully, if we spread that message wide enough, they would side with us and understand that we were there to make their lives better and not to impose things like drink coke out of a vending machine.
If you leave after six months do you form a real relationship with the villages and do they trust you? I still remember the faces of the locals ? although haven?t a clue what they were saying. There was a guy that, every time I walked past him ? he was a mechanic, he could fix anything ? I?d stop for two or three minutes with him. I?d have a laugh with him; he might bring out a cup of tea. We?d just have a chat. Once you?ve got to that point where you can sit and have a laugh. A lot of the time, I?d take my helmet off and take my radio head-set off if I felt safe to do so. Who are you going to be more responsive to ? someone sitting there with his safety glasses on, his helmet or someone who can be trusted?
It?s fundamental to get cultural awareness right. You might think you?re trying to help someone but if you humiliate him in front of his family or his peers, until you get someone new in, he will give you nothing. That cultural awareness which they teach you at Thetford, that is critical.

What about the equipment you use?

SIMON - At first guys wore T-shirts under their body armour, whereas now everyone wears gloves and long sleeves. It?s absolutely proven. A guy in our company lost both his legs but having worn sleeves and gloves this will without doubt save his fingers. When I was wounded, if I hadn?t had the goggles on, it could have been a lot worse. This reduces the whole risk of these injuries and everyone?s become more aware ? the helmet?s there for a purpose and without a shadow of a doubt, the kit for an individual soldier is brilliant out there. You get enough stuff so you can actually move and do everything you need to do as a soldier or you just want to be able to operate.

When you were injured, where were you?

SIMON - We were in a village about 12ks north of our patrol base. We got helicoptered in there to go into a compound. Again, we paid the locals compensation and chatted and it was perfectly friendly. We had some ANA with us so there was this Afghan face with it all. What we were trying to achieve was a bit of a presence ? get the ISAF presence a bit wider and shake the Taliban up a bit. It?s just one of those things. If you stay there for two years most people would get an injury of some sort. That operation where I got injured and the guys that got killed ? we could have done nothing better and nothing different. We?ve just got to accept the fact that if they can hide in ground where it?s sandy, it?s rocky? it?s easy to hide stuff. You?ve got to accept that that?s the risk you take every time you go out on patrol and you?re minimising those risks every step. But sometimes someone?s going to get hit at some point.

And someone radios for a helicopter?

Yes, the American system?s incredible. The guys were treated on the ground and a medic came and carried on my treatment. Within 35 minutes I was on a Chinook helicopter. If needed they can take a guy?s leg off or they can do stuff that will save a leg on the helicopter. Then I landed at Bastion and was literally whisked straight into an operating theatre. David was there when I came round. Within 36 hours of injury I was being wheeled into Selly Oak and ended up there for seven weeks. You get every sense of support.

DAVID - Medical planning drives everything. Unless you?ve got the medical cover, people will think about how they?re going to do a casevac. When you go on patrol, every platoon leader is thinking about how would you evacuate casualties. It takes eight people to evacuate that person because of the kit they carry on the stretcher. To carry him 600 metres, people are going to be absolutely exhausted and they?ve got to change over. So to extract one person takes a platoon. You?ve got to have protection; you?ve got to have the team to change round the stretcher. You?ve then got to secure the HLS (Helicopter Landing Site), clear it for IEDs before the helicopter comes in, you?ve got to protect the helicopter and it becomes so important and it?s rehearsed and rehearsed and rehearsed. The way they do it is a very set format. Training really does kick in so you don?t miss information about whether they?re male or female, what sort of injury it is, their breathing rates, all that sort of thing. There are two sorts of helicopters. There are the Blackhawks which will put on tourniquets and get you back as quickly as possible. They can pick up four people maximum and there are the fully prepared medical teams which can prep you ready for theatre. But the issue is the dust ? people don?t realise how dusty everything is in Afghanistan. You spend your whole time covered in it. It crunches in your teeth, it gets in your hair and it?s not just mud, it?s also crap, including human faeces. When the blast injuries occur it gets into the blood stream ? it?s what stops wounds healing. It literally stops your blood clotting ? it?s the biggest risk.

SIMON - If my platoon sergeant says, ?I?m not confident about dealing with a casualty,? I?ll go to my company commander and say we can?t do this. He?ll say if you can?t extract casualties, then don?t do stuff. You can?t expect the blokes to risk their lives unless you can help them out if they do get injured.

Before our talk, I thought the war was a very negative thing?but you?ve put more of a positive view ? that we?re there to help other people. Do you find when you come back that everyone is quite negative?

DAVID - When I came back from Iraq in 2005, I got off the bus and that was it. Now there?s so much more awareness of Afghanistan and the casualties and the public perception has really changed. The way you are treated now in the military is very different. Now if you go out in uniform, people come up and shake your hand. We have the Freedom Parades ? people in the towns want to support us. We?ve just done one in Southend ? we must have had 7000 people on the streets. You wouldn?t have seen that beforehand. It?s also helped with the recruiting in the army. People want to be there ? people want to go to Afghanistan.

SIMON - People feel they should give you sympathy. I don?t feel I need or particularly deserve sympathy as I was aware of the risks to myself and my soldiers when I went out there. I got off quite lucky really ? most people come back without an injury ? but out of injured people, I?ve not come off that badly at all. People think it must have been horrible out there ? but not at all ? bits of it were absolutely dire but bits of it were absolutely amazing. As an experience as a whole, that?s the strongest experience of my life. That initial tour that you do ? it?s the big one ? and it?s the one that will stick with me definitely.

DAVID - One of the reasons people get back and people are quiet or thoughtful is because they?re actually a bit bereft ? they miss that sense of being part of something larger ? a Band of Brothers. Where we were, 6 Platoon was our world. It was brilliant to be part of that organization and to work with those people, to know people that well. Even if you?re in a ditch, up to your waist in water with bullets whizzing round your ears, someone will make you laugh. At the end of it, you?re exhilarated. It?s the biggest adrenaline rush in the world.
I wouldn?t say you?re frightened because you?re too busy thinking about what?s going on around. People go out knowing that they could be at risk because it?s that professional challenge, you?re thinking about the problem ? how am I going to solve it. So you go out on patrol and you?re solving that problem and you?re thinking about this and your brain is going a hundred miles an hour and one of the weird things was in 2007 I had five casualties in my platoon ? none of them were killed but some were badly injured ? and that was one of the worst parts of the tour ? evacuating them, going to the casualty evacuation chain, dealing with all their kit, seeing the injuries they had. Then they got on the helicopter and they vanish from your collective consciousness because although you hope they are all right, you don?t have time to think any more than that. Your brain just moves on to the next problem. It?s not until you get back to Britain you find your ability to process the information, I?ve got these people here to focus on.

SIMON - There?s a saying that there?s no greater feeling in life than to be shot at without result and it?s so true and a big part of it is that it won?t happen to me. Statistically, everyone who goes out there is more likely to come back uninjured than they are to be injured. You just think it won?t happen to us.
But if people get too het up about near misses then it?s not the job for them. There?s a lot of near misses. There was a soldier come back from our battalion who had a bullet pass literally through the back of his neck ? it missed the spine by 3mm. One platoon sergeant was shot in the face. It passed through his cheekbone and came out his neck. He was fine. Stringer had five bullet holes in his body armour which means the kit works. People are having lucky escapes every day.
There?s a perfectly good reason why I didn?t get any more injured than I did and why I didn?t get any less. It?s just one of those things that happens to you. As long as you understand that and don?t get worked up about it, you?ll be all right.

Interview by Samantha Rees and Helena Mansbridge

The photograph shows David and Simon (seated) with Helena and Samantha at The Hemel Hempstead School.

Keywords Royal Anglian Regiment; ISAF; Taliban; IED; green zone; freedom parades, Selly Oak
Collection Overseas Battle Fronts
Place Afghanistan
Year 2007 - 2010
Conflict 2000
File type html
Record ID number 180

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