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
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
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
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 passenger
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.
Vehicle Control Point
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 hours.
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 children."
Who was at fault? Well, nobody really – except for the people
who sent the soldiers out to man a check point without the necessary