Commando who fought off 70 Taliban in Afghanistan is honoured in secret


running up that hill
Jan 3, 2007
in Wonderland, with my Alice

A British commando has secretly received one of the highest decorations for bravery for tackling 70 Taliban fighters after two colleagues were killed during an ambush.

The sergeant, who cannot be named to protect his identity, was part of a 16-man team of Special Forces conducting a "snatch operation" to capture four Taliban leaders near Sangin in the north of the British zone in Afghanistan.

The firefight took place on June 27 2006, but the award of a Military Cross has only just been made because medals for special forces soldiers are treated separately for security reasons.

The Special Boat Service team had grabbed the Taliban they were sent in to collect and were on their way back to base, but were ambushed by a force of 70 Taliban who destroyed one of their vehicles. They were forced to flee the vehicles and became pinned down in an irrigation ditch.

"They had an OP [observation post] from which they were watching the targets," one special forces source said.

"They were expecting a meeting of just four key guys but the OP was compromised and they were ambushed by 70-odd Taliban."

Capt David Patten, 38, from Aghadowey, Co Londonderry, a member of the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, was killed as the team tried to escape across the fields.

The leader of the patrol was badly wounded by a bullet that went through his forearm and passed through his watch and they were left pinned down in a ditch with their grinning Taliban prisoners, who were now certain they would be freed, one source said.

As dawn broke, one SBS commando, Sgt Paul Bartlett, 35, from Poole, made an attempt to get back to the vehicles but was shot dead. However, this allowed the patrol to see where the the Taliban fire was coming from.

The MC winner, one of two brothers in the SBS, took charge and led the men in holding off the Taliban, manoeuvring himself into a position from where he could throw a grenade into the main enemy position. The 13 fit men not only managed to hold off the Taliban until a Gurkha platoon arrived but killed dozens of the Taliban.

The leader of the patrol lost his forearm as a result of his wounds but is still with the service.

The SBS has been at the forefront of Special Forces operations in Afghanistan since 2001. The Americans had wanted to award the Medal of Honour to an SBS sergeant who led the rescue of a CIA officer following a revolt by Taliban and al-Qa'eda prisoners late that year in the Qala-i-Jangi jail in northern Afghanistan.

However, the then defence secretary Geoff Hoon vetoed the idea on the advice of commanders worried it would draw too much attention to the SBS.

"It's a shame that for security reasons only the guys who died can be named," one source said. "The powers that be are very cagey about any operation involving Special Forces."