News Article

Royal Engineers blast through Taliban IED field with new weapon

A Military Operations news article

18 Feb 10

The Royal Engineers have fired their latest weapon in the battle against the Taliban for the first time, an exploding hose which punches safe passage through suspected IED belts.

Trojan armoured engineer tank

A Trojan armoured engineer tank in Helmand province. Trojan vehicles may be equipped with the Python trailer-mounted, rocket-propelled mine-clearing system
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The Python rocket is a trailer-mounted, rocket-propelled mine-clearing system pulled behind the Trojan armoured engineer tank. The Python system fires a snake of high explosives.

The first use of the new equipment, across a suspected IED field in a dry river bed or 'wadi' north of Patrol Base Wahid, as part of Operation MOSHTARAK, shook the ground either side of the detonation, and created a huge cloud several hundred metres high.

Staff Sergeant Mark Eastley, from 30 Armoured Engineer Squadron, said:

"It takes your breath away. You feel the vehicle rock, and in awe of what has just happened. You see the flash, hear the bang, and then feel the shock wave.

"This explosion, although loud, was an act to clear safe passage for British and Afghan soldiers through the belts of roadside bombs that kill civilians and soldiers."

Lieutenant Colonel Matt Bazeley, Commanding Officer of 28 Engineer Regiment, who oversaw the use of Python, said:

"We are clearing this belt of death so that civilians and their families can begin to live without fear of being blown to pieces by a cowardly and dishonorable enemy that is happy to kill indiscriminately."


All families in the area were contacted to ensure that no civilians came near the blast.

Lt Col Bazeley’s team, known as the Manoeuvre Support Group, is made up of a combination of a squadron of 1st Royal Tank Regiment in Viking armoured personnel carriers, and Royal Engineers bridging and armoured engineer tanks.

Lieutenant Jim Viney, from 26 Engineer Regiment, Commander of the Trojan Troop, said:

"It's not an aggressive tool. It is a tool to save military and civilian lives. It makes the routes safe."

As the weapon fired, a series of rockets lifted the hose out of its barrel, shooting it over the Trojan tank into the air and laying it over a long strip of ground.

Seconds later the hose exploded, creating a flash, followed by a thump and a cloud.

SSgt Eastley added:

"The kit provides a breaching capability. Its primary employment to date will be clearance of known IED areas to provide a safe route."

Python Minefield Breaching System

Launching the rocket of the Python Minefield Breaching System from a Trojan Armoured Engineer Tank during an equipment demonstration at Warminster, Wiltshire
[Picture: Corporal Russ Nolan, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]


Also, as part of Operation MOSHTARAK, the Royal Engineers used the Trojan vehicle, which is fitted with a large plough on the front, to clear safe passage through a suspected IED belt to the north west of Showal, the Taliban's 'seat' of governance, earlier in the week.

It was also the first time that the plough had been used on operations in Afghanistan.

Sapper Gwynfor Hughes, the Trojan's driver, said:

"I was confident the kit worked but it was going through the back of my mind - are we going to hit an IED?"

Although the Taliban chose to flee rather than fight, they had seeded areas in and around Showal with deadly home-made explosives to kill and maim British and Afghan soldiers and Afghan civilians.

Vehicle Commander Corporal Michael Baker received his order to move the Trojan vehicle forward and plough through anything that got in his way. He said:

"I thought, this is it. This is a first. The Royal Engineers at the very front of the action."

Still careful to avoid mines, Cpl Baker snaked a mile-long (1.6km) path through the dry river bed in front of Showal up to the edge of the town, and past its deserted bazaar, one of Afghanistan's main heroin trading points:

"We were all locked down, turrets shut, seat belts on," said Cpl Baker.

Python Minefield Breaching System detonates

The Python Minefield Breaching System explodes in a fireball taking with it any mines and explosive devices in its path
[Picture: Corporal Ian Forsyth, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]


Commanders hope that the Trojan's rocket system and plough will force the Taliban onto the backfoot. Lt Col Bazeley said:

"It's going to change the dynamic of the campaign. The Taliban are going to have to react to us, not the other way around. We now have the capacity to crack through IED belts. In the past, it was painstaking."

Once the Trojan finds IEDs, the engineers and bomb disposal teams can return to make them safe:

"We'll be back to clear any IEDs found to ensure the area is safer for the locals and reconstruction and development can get underway," said Lt Col Bazeley.

After moving into Showal and linking up with A Company of 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh, the column returned to their temporary desert base:

"There was a sigh of relief as soon as we finished the task, and that that part of the op was completed," said Sapper Hughes.


Afghanistan blog

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