Royal Marine fights off Taliban with bullet in head

Independent:

It had been a morning of fierce close-quarter combat with incessant fire coming from insurgents in the heart of Taliban country. As the Royal Marines edged their way past the high walls of a compound the section commander, a corporal, fell to the ground with two shots to the groin.

The team had walked into an ambush and Marine Sam Alexander knew that the only chance they had was to fight their way through. He picked up a heavy machine-gun and "traded lead" with the insurgents just 15 metres away. Running out of ammunition, he opened up with his 9mm pistol until that too was spent. The Taliban fighters were forced to withdraw and found themselves being hunted as they ran into other marine units coming in from the flanks.

By his bravery, 26-year-old Marine Alexander saved the life of the shot corporal and also earned vital minutes for the rest of the team from 42 Commando to gain cover. What made his actions even more remarkable was that just a few hours earlier he had been shot in the head, the bullet embedding itself in his helmet. Waving away offers to fall back, he had insisted on continuing with the others as they went through compounds clashing repeatedly with the insurgents.

Marine Alexander continued with Operation Abii Toorah, Pashtu for Blue Sword, one of a series of missions led by the marines in Helmand which also involved Afghan troops and a Danish contingent with Leopard tanks. The fighting went on with little let-up for the two remaining days, until the Taliban withdrew from the area.

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The marines say they came across some of the fiercest resistance they have faced from the insurgents, who were being aided, it is claimed, by Pakistani, Chechen and Arab fighters. According to British forces, "several dozens" of the enemy were killed and more than 100 injured. It was also the first time the Taliban had carried out repeated night attacks, with large bands of fighters attempting to break through the lines while reinforcements arrived from surrounding regions over the days.

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This is a tactical mistake by the Taliban to give battle with forces that can call on superior fire power. They have been getting away from this kind of contact lately, but if they return to it, it will be a gift to our forces.

The bravery of the Royal Marine is certainly noteworthy. The British fighting forces have been first rate in this war. The same cannot always be said for their leadership.

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