From The Sunday Times
May 16, 2010

Over two months in Helmand province, members of the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, escaped death repeatedly

THEY are not so much the dirty dozen as the fortunate few. A band of 12 British soldiers has been described as the “luckiest platoon” in Afghanistan after repeatedly cheating death at the hands of the Taleban.

The men from the 3rd Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment, came within inches of losing their lives to sniper fire and roadside bombs during a two-month period of intense fighting in Helmand province.

One soldier survived being hit three times in a hail of bullets, while another continued to fight off the enemy despite being shot in the neck in another attack.

Even the platoon commander narrowly avoided being blown up thanks to a malfunctioning bomb.

The army unit’s tale of luck and heroism is one of the few positive stories to emerge from the area of Sangin, regarded as the most dangerous place in Afghanistan for British troops.

Another battalion, 3 Rifles, posted close to the same Taliban stronghold suffered 30 deaths and a further 80 injuries during a six-month tour. A total of 285 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since 2001.

“We all feel very lucky and grateful that we didn’t lose anyone out there,” said Lieutenant Will Sutton, the platoon commander.

“The insurgents came very close on several occasions, but we didn’t let that stop us getting on with the job. Everyone got through it okay.”

His unit — call sign Hades One Five — arrived at patrol base Hanjar, just south of Sangin, in mid-January to protect nearby villages and farmland from the Taliban.

The platoon’s sniper, Lance Corporal Joe Jones, 24, from Halifax, West Yorkshire, was the first member of the tightly knit group who was almost killed. Jones described last week how he was shot in the neck by an enemy sharpshooter. “There was a loud ‘crack’ and I was thrown about 3ft onto my back,” he said.

“I put my hand up to the wound and it was covered in blood. I felt a burst of adrenaline as I realised I had been shot by a sniper. I was still alive, so I got back up and started to return fire.

“I knew roughly where the round had come from. There was a compound nearby with ‘murder holes’ knocked into the walls so the Taliban could fire out of them.”

Jones was treated at Hanjar by a medic who found a bullet fragment lodged in his neck. “Another fraction of an inch and that would have been me,” he added. “As it was, the medic patched me up and I was fine.”

Private David Dyer, 22, from Barnsley, South Yorkshire, was hit by a Taliban sniper as the platoon was on patrol near a village on March 3.

“I heard a loud crack a split second before I was hit,” said Dyer. “It felt as if someone had hit me in the back with a sledgehammer.

“It knocked me forward onto my stomach and I heard the crack of another round going by. The fact I could hear it meant it was within a couple of feet.

“The bullet lodged in my body armour. Two inches lower and it would have hit me in the spine.”

Sutton, 29, said the closest call came less than a fortnight later when one of his men, Private “Tonga” Loseli, 31 — whose nickname comes from his country of origin — was shot three times in an ambush by insurgents.

“We were leaving a dangerous village, one heavily influenced by the Taliban,” he said. “We were patrolling out along a ditch when the Taliban opened up on us from two well-prepared positions at the same time.

“One of their rounds passed between Tonga’s arm and his body and hit him in the armpit. Some of the bullet lodged in the wound and he had a long graze where the round passed down his side.

'Tonga' Loseli, far right, was shot three times, but his only  injury was a bullet graze near his armpit

'Tonga' Loseli was shot three times, but his only injury was a bullet graze near his armpit

“He simply turned to Sergeant [Anthony] Oxley and said ‘Ox, I think I’ve been shot.’ Back at the base we found another bullet hole in his body armour and one in his medic pouch. He had been very lucky.”

The platoon returned to their base at Warminster, Wiltshire, last month.

As Sutton, from Cleveland, in the north of England, led his men onto the Chinook helicopter at the end of their tour of duty, he was pulled aside by company commander Major Tim Harris and congratulated for keeping his men safe.

Harris said: “I can tell you this, Will, now that the tour is over — you guys are the luckiest platoon in Afghanistan.”

Sutton’s own near-death experience came when a bomb short circuited and exploded just seconds before he was about to walk over it.

“We think it didn’t go off properly because of recent heavy rain,” Sutton said. “We were about 20 seconds from being on top of it at the time it detonated and were glad we hadn’t got any nearer.”

The luck of Yorkshire’s own “band of brothers” held out one final time when Private Adam McCurdy got caught up in another explosion. “He disappeared in a smoke cloud and most of the lads thought he was dead,” said Sutton.

“The next moment, Private McCurdy staggered out of the smoke unscathed and jumped into cover. He was dazed but otherwise untouched.”

(Source: Times)