Stories of life on the frontline in Afghanistan. The men of C Company, 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment enter an area of Helmand dubbed Death Valley to find a war far from over.
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This programme contains very strong language.
This programme contains scenes which some viewers may find upsetting.
The men of C Company,
2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment,
are some of the most recent soldiers to have returned from Afghanistan.
While they were there, they filmed every moment
of their six-month tour.
Everything I've seen, I think about every day,
but it's just a quick, two-second image.
I still can't believe I've been to Afghanistan
and fought against the Taliban. That just seems crazy to me, even now.
British combat operations are due to end in 2014,
but two young officers and best friends led their platoons
to Helmand Province to find a war that is far from over.
Come here, buddy.
After days back in the UK,
this is the first time they've spoken
about what happened to them.
What socks are you wearing?
Well that's...that's the dress code, Jimmy.
Two platoons make up C Company. Seven Platoon's Luke Beetlestone
and Jimmy Clark of the Assault Pioneers
are the platoon commanders in charge.
They're like teenage girls, those two.
They loved each other, they did.
They got on real well.
It was good to see that with superiors there, as well.
They kind of like...
I imagine they spend a lot of time out of work together,
like me and Tom do.
We have talked about, in the mess, trying to get a double room
and then having two beds in it,
because we do spend so much time together that it would make it
so much easier, kit-wise, and organisation...
We're always sharing kits. Yeah.
Yeah, but that's been vetoed. That would be weird, apparently.
-You'll get used to that.
-Hurry up! Come on!
Before they left the UK, Luke, Jimmy and their men
made final preparations for their six-month tour.
Right. What do we do now?
Get photos for when we get slotted.
Have our pictures in the paper.
-And how many shirts have you got?
Come on, it don't take 30 seconds to put a shirt on.
If you try to get any other job to do, they have to take your photo
just in case you die in the next six months.
It probably wouldn't go down as well as it would go with us lot.
-He's probably the most likely to get slotted.
That was still a few weeks before we got any serious news
of where we were going.
The holiday spirit was there then.
The two platoons were leaving their barracks together,
heading for Helmand Province, Afghanistan.
It is a massive adventure.
All of us,
in different ways, were very excited by the prospect
of going out, and showed it.
-How do you feel, Jeff?
-I feel fucking great and I can't wait
to start dropping Taliban.
Mum, if I don't see you again, it's been a good 18 years.
Off we go!
-Fucking hell, man. This is it now.
-This is it.
-This is real now.
You know then, right? We're going to war.
-How are you feeling?
"Good, I'm feeling good."
Sounds like he's about to cry.
"I'm feeling good."
I certainly made it clear to my soldiers,
"Don't have anything outstanding."
I'm going to be snatched out of that life
for seven months and I might not get thrown back into it.
Do everything you want to do.
The main thing I did, I went to the Ritz Hotel in London.
I just thought I'd go somewhere
which was going to be really nice
and something I'd remember and enjoy remembering whilst I was out there,
to have good memories with.
Crowder took his girlfriend to the Ritz, didn't he?
And Maguire proposed.
We'd been together for four years
and something like this really puts it into perspective.
You think that you may never come back.
So you think, "Right, this is the woman I love.
"This is the woman I want to be with.
"Will you marry me?"
Finally, we move to Helmand. Come on, let's get some!
For Jimmy, Luke and most of their men,
this would be their first and possibly only tour of Afghanistan.
British combat troops won't be sent to fight there after 2014.
The mission now is to prepare the country for handover
to Afghan forces.
I was looking forward to that kind of stabilisation roll.
We're going to go and do what we should be doing,
having been in Afghanistan now for ten years -
we're going to be...
we're going to be getting the place ready for transition.
Yeah, cos that's what it's kind of like switched towards now.
Afghan's not all about killing everyone in sight,
it's about actually trying to bring the country on.
The Afghans should assume lead security responsibility
across the country as a whole by the end of 2014.
By 2014, this process of transition will be complete.
The handover of security to Afghan forces has already begun.
But when Luke, Jimmy and their men got told where they'd be based,
it was in an area where transition still seemed a long way off.
Death Valley kind of gave it away a bit. It was, "Oh, Christ...
"Here we go."
The men were heading to an area British troops had handed over
to Americans in 2010.
Nicknamed Death Valley,
the Upper Gereshk Valley has seen some of the fiercest fighting
of the war.
-This is going to be cheeky, this is.
-I'm going! Get me there!
You're really asking yourself some internal questions of "Wow,
"what's it going to be like?"
The two platoons arrived at Camp Bastion,
the main troop base in Helmand,
to get ready to be sent to their different bases.
First day of actual Ops, and we're getting the wagons ready,
ready to fuel up.
-Banging soundtrack. Yep, that's it.
-We got separated at Bastion.
I drove in Mastiffs, Luke ended up flying.
That was probably the last time I got to see you, and it was for...
I don't remember saying goodbye to you in Bastion.
Jimmy, Luke and their men left the safety of Camp Bastion,
heading for the Upper Gereshk Valley.
Their checkpoints will be based along the notorious Route 611.
Major roads like this are a massive target for Taliban fighters,
desperate to derail the process of transition.
Luke and 7 Platoon were based at Checkpoint Salaat.
Jimmy and the Assault Pioneers were 12km away at Checkpoint Pan Kalay.
The men were taking over from a force of US Marines
three times bigger.
When are you off?
We're leaving on Sunday. Hopefully, get out of this country
within the next two weeks.
Bringing ass to the fight, I like it.
When we ripped in, they were tired and...
..they'd clearly had quite a rough time.
Have you got one piece of advice for C Company?
You need to be flexible and very, very patient.
On their first day,
Jimmy and the platoon were taken out in vehicles by the Marines
on a brief handover patrol.
As you can see, we're completely static.
We had a two minute convoy briefing from the Americans.
To give you an example of how there was a hole in the handover,
on the first patrol we did with them, Corporal Katia was shot.
Corporal Dave Katia was one of the most senior men in Jimmy's platoon.
He was shot in the leg as he crossed from one vehicle to another.
I heard a gunshot.
I was like, "Dave, you all right, mate?"
He was like, "Yeah. There's some sweets in my day sack.
"Would you grab them for the lads?" I was like, "Dave,
"you've just been shot by the Taliban, are you all right?"
I've seen him injected with morphine,
so he was all over the place, high as a kite.
I think everyone thought, you know, "Unlucky."
It's the first time we've gone out on patrol, on joint patrol,
and he's caught a round in the leg.
Because it was gunshot wounds, now, because of the IEDs,
we kind of see that as a lesser thing.
We'd almost want to be shot.
Like, "Oh, he's been shot. Yeah, he was alive when left him.
"He's going to make a full recovery. Happy."
Corporal Katia was flown out safely
but the Taliban had wasted no time welcoming the newcomers.
After it all calmed down and we got cut out of there,
I was like, "Shit the bed, this is going to be a ruthless tour."
Over the next few days, all but a few Marines
withdrew from the area, leaving Jimmy and Luke
to run things their way.
They decided to take a very different approach
in securing the road -
instead of going out in vehicles, they would patrol on foot.
Jimmy would be patrolling from his base where the Route 611
meets the canal, which was the enemy's front line.
Everything to the west of the canal was Taliban territory.
A few days after arriving in their base,
Jimmy received a tip-off from a local village,
telling him an IED had been laid right on the bank of the canal.
He decided to go and find it.
I took a risk and said, "Fine, let's go and check it."
Let's show them that we're here, we're dominating the ground,
this is our patch, we'll move where we want.
No, we'll go from the front of the patrol.
It was the first time most of the platoon had left
the security of the base, including John Ward,
whose job it was to look for the IED.
Obviously, it's a war zone.
Before I went to Afghanistan,
it was a thing you played on games, you know.
But, you know, it is for real now.
While John searched the ground for explosive devices,
Jordan Crowder was the cover man, acting as his eyes and ears.
We thought it was bit weird, but we've got to go and do it
for the locals, to say,
"We're not scared, we will check things out."
The search took them to the edge of the canal,
but there was no IED to be found.
Something's not normal, not right. Where is everyone?
Why are locals telling us there's an IED there?
Yeah, it was weird.
Across the canal, they spotted movement.
From one atmosphere to another, it can change so quickly.
So, we were lured out.
You always have a bad feeling when you are marching around
in the open in front of various enemy firing points.
Wardy, you lead off.
Everyone was getting agitated
and just really wanted to get out of the area as soon as.
-How much are you going back?
-Keep going, keep going.
As they approached the safety of their base, in an alleyway,
they found themselves channelled and vulnerable.
That was an ambush. I heard the gunshot,
I turned round and saw him on the floor.
I wasn't sure at that time whether he was dead, hurt or what happened.
I ran out to grab him.
The boss joined us, Mr Clark joined us,
and we ripped his body armour off, trying to find the entry wound.
Fucking hell, man.
Near the back of the patrol, Tom Maguire had been shot
by a sniper from across the canal.
-Who is it?
I looked at him, and he was going whiter and whiter in the face.
At that point, I was very concerned that he might not make this.
-Just put me down!
-You all right, man? You all right?
-He's all right!
-He's all right.
-Was that Maguire?
It's just sort of being hit by Mike Tyson with a hammer.
The bullet shattered on impact
and shrapnel ricocheted around Tom's body,
causing massive internal damage.
So, there was shrapnel in me that stayed there.
I'd broken three ribs, three vertebrae, lost part of my lung.
Cracked my shoulder blade, as well.
They put me to sleep in the end, through my operation.
I woke up five days later.
Tom was flown back to the UK. His tour was over.
I think someone said, "At this rate, we'll have no-one left by the end."
Which is what it would have been.
I think we only had 28 blokes to start with in the CP
and within a week, we had already lost two people,
and we had to be there for seven months.
Despite the attacks on Jimmy's men,
he and Luke were determined to push out on foot.
They needed to find out the extent of the Taliban threat
and started patrolling the local villages.
We needed to know who lived here, and try and distinguish between
who were the locals, the people we were trying to protect,
and who were the insurgents.
But the reception wasn't a warm one.
Mostly, they're too scared to want to speak to us.
Just too scared for themselves cos they'd been under that control.
Shep, don't overextend!
It was becoming clear why the locals were so nervous.
The Taliban were watching.
While the men were trying to build a picture of their enemy,
the Taliban were doing exactly the same.
We started going out of the checkpoints, out to the villages,
out on the ground,
so then the insurgents' tactics sort of changed
to try and aim for, you know, our foot soldiers on the ground.
So, once that started happening, the threat level in the area rose.
Around Luke's checkpoint at Salaat,
IEDs were starting to appear.
19-year-old Chris Scott had volunteered to try find them
whenever 7 Platoon went out on patrol.
Your mind needs to be 100% focused.
You can't start thinking about what could happen.
You've got to think about what you are doing at that precise moment.
For a young lad to constantly volunteer to go at the front
of the patrol and put his life at risk and be happy to get
that close and find an IED
to prevent anyone else in the callsign stepping on it,
that's a big deal.
On an early patrol, Luke wanted to investigate a compound on the bank
of the canal that the Taliban were known to use as a firing base.
He'll point to a specific place, a compound,
and head towards that direction and he'll let me pick the route.
The Americans that were there before us, obviously,
had a lot of problems with the areas around the checkpoint.
So, we were there, we thought we'd take it over,
show them what the English can do.
There's a bridge. We're not going over the bridge.
Chris led the platoon to the compound on the edge
of the canal.
I'd spotted from a distance
that out of the corner of the compound,
there was an irregular feature.
We was really close to the firing points. I mean, we could see them.
-Boss, watch all that hay and shit.
-Watch all that hay and shit.
And then, obviously, everything went bad after that.
You hear those words and your heart just sinks, you start getting angry.
On the other side of the compound,
a US Marine who'd been attached to Luke's platoon had stepped
on an IED.
To see the dust cloud and see it disappear,
at first it didn't seem real. For the first second or so,
I was like, "What?" Then, obviously, I knew it was real.
Got a casualty.
Erm... Double amputee.
The casualty was in danger of bleeding to death.
Luke told Chris to clear a safe path to get him out.
But the quickest way out was across the bridge he'd avoided earlier.
The Taliban were known to booby-trap the most obvious routes
for carrying casualties.
DETECTOR BEEPS RAPIDLY
I'm still not sure how much he cleared that route or how much he...
He just went for it and walked.
Bridge is clear.
Get the stretcher up! Get the stretcher up! Go.
Get him on the back of that wagon.
Obviously, I'd walked past that area,
I was thinking a lot about where it was, what was around at the time.
I just happened to be at that spot, really unlucky.
That's my guy. I've got to go.
The US Marine was in a helicopter on his way to hospital
just 12 minutes after the explosion.
He'd lost one of his legs. And suffered severe injury to the other.
Everyone didn't really say anything to each other for about five or ten minutes.
Then we just started easing into it.
Talking about it.
I just think to myself, I wish things could happen differently.
I'm sure that wasn't the only IED in the ground there.
And it went off.
That day, it was a success for the Taliban.
At their base 12km away, Jimmy and his men
had listened to the whole thing unfolding on the radio.
The dread... I didn't know if it was Luke,
just thinking there's nothing I can do.
And that anger is still with me.
That feeling of helplessness and anger at a situation
and the fact that you are helpless. Wow!
The two platoons had been living separately in their bases
for just a few weeks, but already they'd taken casualties
and the enemy were laying IEDs at will.
They had to hit back.
And as we eat dinner, Apaches are flying overhead,
ready to kill the insurgent bastards.
You get this feeling of aggression and you kind of think, "OK,
"if it's not going to be peaceful and it's going to be warry,
"then we're going to get warry."
Jimmy and his platoon received new orders to lure
the Taliban into a trap.
OK, most of you have been out on the ground.
We're patrolling to the north through the fields.
But for the plan to work, the pioneers would have to act as bait.
You have a foot patrol, which has air support.
You'd go, get contacted, you're being fired at from a location
and the helicopter would come in and kill that guy.
It was quite a shocking thing for all of us to hear that.
It was like, yeah, right.
Our job was to get shot at, so...
-How are you feeling, Martin?
-Good. Ready to get back out there?
-Yeah, I suppose.
I don't want to play any more. I wanted to go home.
-That face says it all, doesn't it?
-I'm Lance Corporal Shepherd.
This will be the last you see of me. Going on suicide.
I'm Private Morgan, I'll be picking up Shep's legs.
The men set off on what they nicknamed Op Bait,
knowing exactly where to meet the enemy.
Jordan Crowder was wearing his headcam.
Also filming just a few metres behind him was James Hughes.
We were right next to the canal. Right on top of it.
And we spotted a few people.
Literally, just like a stone's throw away.
Jimmy started sending information
for the Apache helicopter that was standing by.
We knew something was going to happen and Corporal Shepherd could see
somebody looking through a murder hole at him.
Even though some of the patrol could see the enemy,
the Apache wouldn't attack until they'd been shot at.
..When we're pushing through here, OK?
Once we win the firefight, we can extract the casualty.
And take the track that runs up through Haji Hassan's compound.
Once you've put everything in place, that's it. Then you're good to go. So you go.
Boss gave his orders, what's happening here and everything.
And then we decided to patrol onwards.
I think the order went Scholey, Lance Corporal Woodward, the boss.
Then me, then Hughes.
Two IEDs had been triggered by a command wire
pulled from across the canal.
My brain was over wary, it went off.
I remember thinking falling to the floor and thinking, "Oh, God!"
I just thought that was it.
There was no pain or anything, so I was like, I'm fine.
But then, like, my concern then turned to Hughes behind me.
There's only little snippets of memory I've got.
I remember Crowder trying to grab me and stuff.
It sounds silly, check my legs, check my arms,
see I've still got everything.
And a bit of relief when I found out I've got everything.
Come here, buddy. Come on. Come on.
Two IEDs. Fucking unreal.
I was just very lucky, I guess.
Got someone looking over me, as my mum reckons.
I don't think I've ever been so thankful for rain in all my life,
because it rained a couple of days before and then the sun was hot.
It just compacted the ground really hard.
I think if it hadn't been for that, we wouldn't be still here now.
The plan to trap the Taliban had backfired.
Jimmy was lucky to have all his men still alive.
From my point of view, it's incredibly frustrating to be leading soldiers
out on patrol with a purpose of getting shot at.
There's a line between bravery and stupidity
and so far, we're pushing the limits of bravery.
I just wasn't entirely comfortable with the risks we were taking
and what we were achieving.
Erm, those foot patrols weren't securing the road.
Give me that, give me that.
Every time the two platoons of C Company went out on foot,
the Taliban were one step ahead of them.
Jimmy and Luke decided to change tactics
and focus on their main job, protecting route 611
which meant they'd now spend most of their time in vehicles.
The 611 is one of the few tarmac roads in Helmand
and connects two of its biggest towns.
Its security is seen as vital in bringing growth to the area.
If we keep this road secure, then people can travel from Gereshk to Sangin
and the country can get better and everything can get better,
then maybe the insurgencies will start lowering down.
You've got to think about the bigger picture and the knock-on it'll have.
I was a bit relieved that I'm a driver
and I'll be driving up and down, which will be a bit safer.
Those wagons are 30 tonnes of steel and specialist armour.
The stretch of road they had to secure was 18 kilometres long
and had nine Vulnerable Points or VPs
where the Taliban could easily plant bombs.
The new plan was check Vulnerable Points several times a day...
Every day we did VP checks and we found nothing,
that was a victory. I considered it as such, and I treated it as such.
Some of the blokes, they might have said this is boring
but when you get used to winning, maybe winning does get boring, I don't know!
Some days we spend 15 or 16 hours in a vehicle.
You're just sat there, it was hot,
it was boring, there was nothing to do.
You can't start getting claustrophobic or anything like that, you'll just go mad.
I Spy, rock, paper, scissors, noughts and crosses.
Soldiers will complain about anything.
If you took them to heaven, they would say, "This is shit."
In the weeks following the IED blast, the 611 was kept secure
and C Company had taken no further casualties.
At the start of November, Luke and some of 7 Platoon
were making a routine check of VP 9.
In the vehicle that day was a new member of the platoon,
He was a real good lad.
We'd take him out on patrol, in the wagons, on top cover, everything.
He loved it.
What was it like, his third patrol, second patrol?
Luke kept watch on top of one of the vehicles as his men set off.
They were just doing a loop around a VP
to make sure there were no IEDs anywhere.
This part of the road was vulnerable
because of how close the Taliban could get to it without being seen.
Leading the patrol was Joe Blakey.
They know our drills, they watch us.
As much as we try and change them, they know what we're doing,
so they have enough time to plan anything and set up.
Matthew Hasilden was in the middle of the patrol
as they disappeared from view.
The area we were in, there was a lot of high crops.
We were being watched by someone
and they decided to have a pop at us.
On the far side of the field, Matthew was shot by a Taliban sniper
lying in wait for them.
It was his first contact,
so we were like, as well, "Haz, Haz, come on, move, move."
He was just lying on the floor, and we thought, "He's nervous, he's flapping and a bit scared."
"Haz, come on get up, move your arse, what are you doing?"
At this point we were about 40 metres off the road.
I obviously tried to give him first aid and that,
but whatever I done didn't help him, because he was dead.
21-year-old Matthew Hasilden was C Company's first fatality of the tour
and the 384th British soldier to be killed in Afghanistan.
You always think this could happen and you can lose a guy,
but you never think about how it's going to feel.
It hit us hard.
We didn't know him that well but he was still one of the blokes,
still a mate.
Very angry towards the insurgents, but also to the country.
He died in this country. It's just not fair.
Haz died for a road,
it's just a road, it's not worth someone's life.
At their base, Jimmy's platoon received the news of Matthew's death.
They were angry and frustrated, but they couldn't hit back
against an enemy right on their doorstep.
This is shit!
The Taliban are just there.
-The Taliban are there?
-We're fucking sandbagging here.
-The Taliban, 100 metres that way.
The biggest source of frustration were the strict rules
of engagement British soldiers in Afghanistan now operate under.
They can only fire their weapons if their lives are in immediate danger.
What do you think of it?
It's fucking tunk!
You see a person with a gun and you can't engage them.
To me, that is wrong.
It's hard to separate the civilians from the enemy.
You don't know, they all wear the fucking same thing.
You can't go around shooting everyone like everyone's an enemy
because they're not.
-If we get contacted by the Taliban what will you do?
..then fucking brass the cunts up.
It's your inherent right to self-defence.
If you're being shot at and you can positively identify the enemy,
you can fire back.
A Taliban attack on their base gave the pioneers
a perfect opportunity.
The blokes would be happy about it. It was worth all the boring shit.
Every man just smashes it.
It's like being a little kid, you get dead giddy.
Everyone chucks their body armour on and like, "Where?"
Run into the room and are dead excited.
On that day it was very real and Hadley was nearly shot in the head
and Sergeant Keets and I were nearly decapitated.
Now, with their lives in imminent danger, Jimmy called in an airstrike from an Apache helicopter.
Although it's never nice to have to kill people,
it was a good feeling for the platoon
because we felt like we'd been under attack in a static location.
It was a good way of showing them we could fight back. We killed two insurgents and wounded one.
They're the enemy.
They're trying to kill us and we're trying to kill them.
It's not something I sit and think about.
We've been trying to kill people. It's fucking, it's really fucked up when you think about it.
It's just the norm, nothing really special about it.
With that Apache, that was like,
"Yes, that man there, I want you to kill him now."
The Apache went, "OK."
Like that, and that was it, he was dead.
-Are you emotionally damaged?
-Not in the slightest, no.
Isn't that strange? Shouldn't I be? Here you are. It can't all be me.
How do you feel?
How do I feel?
I've not really thought about it, to be honest.
Is that part of that...?
I don't think it bothers me in the slightest.
Not being able to speak to Luke was probably one of the hardest things that happened on tour
because I was sat there and there's no-one to talk to.
-I don't want to be interviewed.
-I want you to be interviewed.
-How's the tour going?
How are the blokes going?
It's actually going quite well.
As the tour wore on, you do get...
..affected and you do get worn down.
Jimmy, Luke and their platoons were more than halfway through their tour
as the Afghan winter started to bite.
Winter was a survival against the elements
as much as it was against the Taliban.
Good morning, Afghanistan.
Man! It's fucking wet.
It's knee deep in there.
My things are floating away.
As the weather deteriorated, the two officers noticed the mood dropping in both their camps.
The toughest part about leading guys on tour,
and in barracks, is maintaining their morale.
It's just like England here now.
Morale was the biggest thing, in my personal view.
If you haven't got morale, you haven't got nothing.
Certainly my morale has dipped, definitely dipped.
"Fuck off, I'm trying to have some personal time."
If blokes come up and say, "You look a bit down, what's up?"
I'll say, "I feel lonely, I feel a real weight of responsibility."
And, "It's tough at the moment."
And they'll say, "OK." No-one really cares how you're feeling.
It's difficult really to "fight" an enemy
that we're not allowed to fight under our rules of engagement.
We can only really return fire, and sometimes it's very frustrating.
It's just dispiriting
and it's difficult to always be...
To always be responsible for everything everybody does.
Our monthly planner.
What do you think of the new monthly planner?
-Looked at it?
-Er, now and then, yeah.
-Now and then.
One of the problems, especially with the IEDs on the route 611,
is insurgents aren't trying to blow up the civilians,
they're just trying to blow up us.
We're actually in a position where we're protecting a route
which only needs protecting because we use it.
Just some stuff that's been on my mind recently.
How's it smelling, Taffy?
-Peng! HE LAUGHS
Fantastic. Merry Christmas.
MUSIC: "Stop The Cavalry" by Jona Lewie
-I planned it a week ago.
-That's pretty good.
# Oh, I say it's tough I have had enough
# Can you stop the cavalry? #
Have you had some more, Tim? How did it taste? Merry Christmas.
Christmas Day provided a rare opportunity
for Jimmy, Luke and their two platoons to spend time together.
'It's nice to see his blokes mixing with my blokes.'
It didn't even have to be Christmas, it was just any excuse for a party.
Everybody went around seeing each other.
It proper brought morale high, like.
Look at that. Look at all those happy little faces munching away.
I think you kind of forget you're in Afghan for, like, an hour or two.
You're just sat round having dinner.
Everything's just good. Merry Christmas.
'That certainly was one of the most special Christmases
'we've probably ever had in our lives.
'Just a chance to get together and forget for a second'
that there is guys 300 or 400 metres away
that are probably watching us thinking, "What the...?
"What are they doing?" You know? Um...
..that wanted to kill us.
The two platoons continued to work separately on Route 611.
One morning in December, Jimmy was in his vehicle
carrying a journalist there to find out how the tour was going.
He decided to drive past where Luke and his men were working that day.
We were driving north and I knew that Luke was involved in an operation near a vulnerable point.
Luke and his platoon were searching an area just off the road
and had set up a cordon to stop traffic.
'We were controlling traffic and telling them to turn around, go back.
This one vehicle just ignored what we were saying -
we were doing our best efforts -
went round the eastern side of the road and triggered a device.
The camera captured the moment
the minibus that had ignored the roadblock
drove off the road and headed straight towards
a pressure plate IED buried in the ground.
There was a very loud explosion.
Floored it for 200 metres and then stopped dead
to assess what was going on.
I said to Luke on the net, "Right, do you need any assistance?"
And he said, "No, we'll handle it. You take them away."
'We heard it. We felt the dust.'
I couldn't control that vehicle.
We tried. They drove...
They drove on the IED.
19 people died in the explosion.
We was there to try and stop anything like that happening.
They were innocent civilians
that got hit by a device that was meant for soldiers.
What we was doing was pretty much running round with stretchers,
picking up bits and bobs. What you could find.
We could see the main torsos of a lot of the casualties,
which is what we counted.
There was limbs, there was debris around.
A lot of it. You couldn't really tell whether some parts were part vehicle or part of a person.
-It was hard.
-It was horrible.
Only when Jimmy got back to base did he discover the full extent
of the scene that Luke and his men had had to deal with.
I can't believe I left him with that.
You know, I can't believe I didn't get out and help him
pick up the pieces of dead people.
The minibus had contained three generations of one family
on their way to a wedding.
Luke and his men managed to save the lives of five passengers,
but five men and 14 women and children
died in the explosion that day.
News of the civilian deaths soon spread among the local villages.
The civilians could have looked on it
as we'd brought this trouble to this area...
But it didn't.
It completely went the opposite and the villages,
they hated the Taliban for this.
The locals' anger towards the Taliban meant both Luke and Jimmy
could lead their men into villages that had previously been hostile.
Are you related? Are you family?
'We built up some really good relationships.
It was really nice when people would greet us by name on the street
and we could greet them back by name on the street.
It's nice to come somewhere and be welcomed.
-Yeah, a good reception by the kids.
-'The kids were great.'
They were all so full of life and hope and, you know,
you really need it. You really appreciate it out there,
-so, you know, that's important.
-Always tried to rob things off you, though.
You walk around and you put your hand in your pocket
to get a bag of sweets out and as you're pulling it out, you're like,
"Oh. I've got no sweets now, have I?"
'They're always coming up to you and pestering you for things.'
-They ask for pens.
-"Bean. Bean. Mr, Mr Bean."
"The CM over there has got pens. Go and bother him."
No, no, no, no, no.
CHILDREN LAUGH AND MIMIC
Pen for chicken.
As spring approached, the improved relationships with the locals
was making a real difference.
They would put on chai and food for us. We came up with agreements.
They were going to come and tell us if the Taliban had come in.
And it worked.
Not only were they gathering intelligence on the Taliban,
Jimmy's platoon had started taking fingerprints and iris scans
of fighting-age men.
They hoped to track down known Taliban fighters.
Just in this place here.
The more people they enrolled, the better the chance of finding a match.
For two hours a day, they went out and biometrically enrolled people.
-'That was a victory.'
-How many did you do?
Fucking hell, you're a ninja on that, aren't you?
Even when we got five, that was five more than just about anyone else,
so when we're getting 30 a day, that was a big deal.
The assault pioneers managed to collect more data than any other platoon in Helmand.
And they started to get results.
I think by the end of the tour, I think we got three people
taken back to Bastion for further questioning
because they were on the wanted levels.
Seven platoon were also having some success.
They arrested two men suspected of planting an IED on the route 611.
-Have you been searched properly?
Have you been searched properly?
-When are we handing these over?
These have to be done by the 22nd.
With just a few weeks of the tour left,
Jimmy gave his men news of when they'd be leaving.
And now what you've really all been waiting for,
which is when you, personally,
are going to get the fuck out of this place.
Go and see the padre.
When you find out your dates, it's like, "We're all counting down to this now.
"I can finally look forward to something,"
so it is an amazing feeling.
Granger, Crowder and Gale, you are going, leaving on the 21st.
But their recent success in finding the enemy was a warning
that while they were going home, the Taliban were going nowhere.
But, guys, like I said - they're not ripping out, we are,
so they're going to keep fighting until the day we leave and beyond,
all right? So be aware of that and don't get too lax.
Everyone just wants to go home and it's that simple.
-How's kit etc going?
Just done the last bit now, which is signals and ECM.
I'm down one battery at the minute. However, we do know where it is.
Just got to locate it, if that makes sense.
-First and last?
-First and last.
Jimmy was handing over to a new platoon of soldiers from the Royal Welsh.
-Sign there, sir.
-Thank you very much.
But as they were preparing to leave, he received news
that showed how deadly the Taliban threat continued to be.
We've just found out that Captain Bowers is dead.
He got blown up in an IED about two and a half hours ago.
Obviously I felt sick to my stomach. I felt a chill go down my spine.
I know he's got a wife and a brand-new baby and...
I'm fucking gutted.
Captain Rupert Bowers was Jimmy's friend and fellow officer.
He was three days away from flying home.
He's one of those guys you just fucking need on your side.
I'm fucking glad he's not on their side.
On 24th March 2012,
C company started to pull out of Helmand province.
All British combat troops will leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
Come back! Come back!
-Take care, mate.
-By which time, the upper Gereshk Valley
will have to be ready to be handed over to Afghan forces.
Let's do this. Take care.
That's it. Goodbye. Can't see shit with this. Job done.
Back in the UK, the men have time to reflect on a tour
far tougher than any of them expected.
I'm like the cardboard man.
Obviously myself was involved in quite a lot, yeah.
But everyone had a different kind of tour.
-The whole experience of it...
-It's a life experience, isn't it?
It's something you can say, if you do have kids in the future,
you can say, "Yeah, I've done that. I was there."
Move over to your right a little.
This is my first tour, so I don't know how long it will take me
to settle back down properly and whatnot, so...
I've come back alive. I'm happy.
Everyone was very proud of what we achieved out there.
It's something that will stay with me for life.
You, your guys, your mission, that's it.
OK. Here we go.
I don't even feel like I've been to Afghan.
It's flown. I just feel like I've been here the whole time.
The minute we're pulling out, and what have we really achieved?
But as long as you know it's not in vain.
Take every day as it comes.
Sit up, please, and that's three, two...
I just can't wait for the next one, to be honest.
During one of the most violent periods of the war,
a young officer led his platoon to a remote and dangerous part of Helmand.
He recorded the experience in a diary.
'We are walking a tightrope and deaths could occur,
-'which could have been stopped.'
I heard Corporal Evans screaming, "The boss is down, the boss is down!"
Man down. That's when it's time for you to man up.
With their leader injured in a Taliban ambush and communications severed,
the platoon had no choice but to fight their way out alone.
I've never felt as lonely as I did in that ditch.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
The men of C Company, 2nd Battalion the Mercian Regiment are getting used to life back in barracks and beginning to tell their stories of a tour far tougher than any of them expected. The two platoons that make up C Company are some of the most recent soldiers to have returned from Helmand Province. During the six months they were there, they filmed every moment.
A timetable has been set for an end to British combat operations in Afghanistan, but two young officers, and best friends, led their platoons into an area of Helmand dubbed Death Valley to find a war that is far from over.
While some areas are being handed over to Afghan forces as part of the process of transition, C Company's extraordinary footage captures the reality of the fight against the Taliban in the Upper Gereshk Valley. During the tour they were blown up by IEDs, ambushed and shunned by a local population too scared to talk to them - until the unthinkable happened. A civilian vehicle carrying three generations of one family was hit by an IED along a notorious stretch of Route 611 - a road C Company were there to protect.