Private Atkins woke up to the clang on the door
from the guard commander with a feeling of resentment, which stayed
with him as he dressed, ate his breakfast and fell in for his shift
“Sangar 3 Atkins”. “Oh No!” He thought, as he collected his binoculars
and 2 magazines of ammunition, the worst job, Observation Post 3.
As he walked across the open space from the
guardroom, he stepped out quickly with a shiver running up his spine. A
part of the path was overlooked by the tower block across the way, and
shots had been fired before at the changing guard. His mate caught one
in the leg, and was medevac’d, but that didn’t make the shiver less;
the next bullet might really hurt. Why didn’t they build cover from
view for the path? It would cost pennies. As Atkins approached the
ladder from the Sangar tower, the shiver got worse. Whichever path he
took, all the paths converged. The opposition had got it taped, and a
couple of small craters, and bits of shrapnel, showed it; and of course
they knew his path and time table. The mortar round could come from a
mile away; all they’d need would be a mobile phone.
Atkins took the last few yards at a run, bashing
the binoculars against the hooped ladder. Why no cover from view? Why
no mortar screen? He felt under valued, as he banged his helmet onto
the trap door to get the old guard to open it. Why not a stair in the
tower? The Colonel had a stair, inside, protected, and it was only used
3 times a day; but here in the Sangar, with guard changes 24 hours a
day, a ladder, a trap door and a helmet as a doorknocker. Atkins
clambered into the OP. The inside was crude; the shiver remained. The
embrasures had been cunningly built by someone who’d never done duty in
an OP, with a V in the wall on the inside, and the small slot inside.
Sitting down, he could see a small rectangle of slum and alleyway, but
he was supposed to have 150° arc. The only way he could do his duty was
to stand up, poke his head into the V and move it from side to side;
much more difficult than the defence-structures embrasures he’d
experienced before, where he could sit in the shadow and observe the
whole area without moving anything other than his eyes.
The roof dripped on Atkins and he glanced up. Thin
wooden joists, thin wriggly tin with sand bags on top, making it sag
and leak, even when it wasn’t raining. He shuddered, remembering the
tale of a small mortar bomb an IED made out of a baked bean tin, which
had hit a roof like this, killing one man and fearfully damaging two
others with horrible injuries from splintered wood and torn sheeting.
If they wanted him to sweat for his country by
overlooking this slum full of bandits, they could at least give him a
decent roof. One that didn’t leak, protected from heat and cold and
would detonate a mortar round before it got to the roof and then stop
all the fragments before they stopped him – a defence-structures mortar
He peered through his binoculars, one eyepiece
fuzzy from the bang on the ladder, hoping he wouldn’t be charged for
it; or even charged. What was that van doing, stopping slewed across
the road? A rocket could be fired from a tube not much bigger than a
kitchen towel, and the little bomb could travel half a mile. Stuck here
in this elevated tower Atkins felt like a duck in a shooting gallery.
He knew that the OP masonry blocks could usually stop a bullet – these
had stopped several – but he had seen the effect of an RPG hitting a
wall, leaving a big hole and shooting out high speed fragments, each
capable of killing or maiming – him. Oh, for a steel rocket screen, and
a concrete wall with decking backing, like the defence structures
rocket screens used at headquarters.
Atkins gave up on the binoculars and poked his
rifle through the embrasure. His telescopic sight was more powerful and
through it he could see the driver fiddling about with something in the
A gust of wind shook the tower and the image of
the car wavered back and forth. Atkins cursed the makeshift tower his
OP was built on; a properly designed defence-structures tower would not
shake like this. Was it a rocket? He clicked off the safety and his
finger curled round the trigger. A lull in the shaking made the pick-up
swim into focus; the driver was a woman changing a baby. Atkins was
shaking, and shook more with bump on the floor. It was Private Smith,
white as a sheet, coming to relieve him.
Sergeant Jones and half his platoon were sent out
to make a Vehicle
Check Point (VCP). “Use what you can find lads”
Sergeant Jones found a couple of old 45 gallon
drums and some yellow paint, and the two sections in their 4 tonners
followed the land rover to the site, a short straight between two
corners. He parked the two 4 tonners at an angle, with their flashers
on, and set up the two barrels to make a little chicane. In turn, the
two sections manned the check point flagging down motorists from both
directions, checking them out, directing odd suspicious looking
vehicles to a search area of yellow and black tape tied to a barrel and
a palm tree, searching them. 3 AK-47s assault rifles and a hand grenade
Darkness fell, quickly, as it does near the
equator. Things started to go wrong, quickly, as they do. The
squaddies’ uniforms, designed to make them look like a piece of
scrubland worked well and provided camouflage, as did the desert tan
paint on the vehicles.
Even the good, law-abiding obedient chaps kept
nearly running them over. A car with 4 dusty looking types slowed, then
sped up and way, slightly bumping 2 soldiers on the way. A car full of
kids screamed through, hooting and shouting. A car with obvious baddies
was stopped, but they ran away, leaving the engine running, the lights
on, and a big rusty dustbin in the back seat. A laugh followed then
panic. The road was closed, the soldiers going up and down the road to
stop traffic before it got to the apparent danger area, the 4 tonners
backed away. Tempers frayed on all sides. The bomb disposal bloke had
to come, which took time. The bin was pulled – it contained dust.
Over the next hour the traffic was gradually
cleared and the VCP reverted to normal. Traffic thinned towards 0100
A small mini bus approached, one headlight out,
the other asquint. It was not going fast. The point soldier shone his
torch into it and it was clear that there were a lot of people in it.
He waved at it to stop. Two or three people inside waved back, but the
bus didn’t stop, just swerved suddenly when it came to the barrel.
There was a shout, more shouts, then a shot; then a lot of shots. The
vehicle swerved into the ditch, the doors burst open.
CNN and Al Jazeerah were the next vehicles to turn
up, followed by the Military Police and finally an ambulance.
The next day the world wide media were headlining:
"Wedding Revellers Killed by Peace Keeping Soldiers. 4 dead including 2
Who was at fault? Well, nobody really – except for
the people who sent the soldiers out to man a check point without the