16 Air Assault Brigade deployed with the 3 PARA battle group on Operation HERRRICK 4 in April 2006 to Afghanistan. Anticipating a peace support operation in the southern Helmand Province, it was instead required to fight a brutal ‘break-in’ battle.
‘Hot spot’ battle areas were around the towns of Now Zad, Musa Qalah, Sangin and Gereshk. Fighting might last six to eight hours with paratroopers operating with 70lbs of ‘fighting order’ in temperatures of up to 50 degrees centigrade.
During the six month tour the 3 PARA battle group fought 500 ‘contacts’, the Brigade firing 13,000 rounds of artillery and mortar and half a million rounds of small arms ammunition. In some locations, weeks were spent fighting and sleeping in body armour and helmets, with often no more than a few minutes rest between enemy attacks. 3 PARA forward operating bases might achieve two hours sleep in every 24, with one company engaged 31 of 35 days with the enemy. Such intense combat had not been seen since Korea.
Apache helicopters were ‘blooded’ for the first time and the Joint Helicopter Force flew over 100 casualty evacuation missions carrying out 170 wounded and injured. The Brigade lost 33 soldiers killed in action.
Hundreds of Taliban insurgents were killed and injured and by the end of the summer they were tactically beaten. The intensity of fighting is reflected in the posthumous awards of the VC to Corporal Bryan Budd and the George Cross to Corporal Mark Wright, both from 3 PARA; two DSOs and 19 gallantry awards as well as a multiplicity of honours and commendations were won by the 16 Air Assault Brigade Force.