Daily Telegraph: The battlements of the Iranian border fort began filling with guards alarmed at the sight of four British armoured vehicles 200 yards away with their guns trained across the border. It was the closest that British armour had ever come to Iran and was perhaps a subtle signal that toleration for Teheran’s continued supply of weaponry to southern Iraq would no longer be tolerated.
The battlements of the Iranian border fort began filling with guards alarmed at the sight of four British armoured vehicles 200 yards away with their guns trained across the border. It was the closest that British armour had ever come to Iran and was perhaps a subtle signal that toleration for Teheran’s continued supply of weaponry to southern Iraq would no longer be tolerated.
Driving away along the border, littered with rusting tanks from the Iran-Iraq war, our Warrior’s main gun now tactfully pointed in the opposite direction towards Basra as we attempted to hunt down the arms smugglers.
This was perhaps not the time to antagonise Teheran’s mullahs, with two divisions of Iranian armour conducting exercises just across the border, which had led the Foreign Office to take the unusual step of informing the Iranian embassy about the impending military operation.
With the detention of 15 Royal Navy personnel last March and eight Royal Marines three years earlier, the coming months of British operations on Iran’s border could prove sensitive as the diplomatic language from the United States hardens.
Mindful of these sensitivities, the cavalrymen of the King’s Royal Hussars, veterans of a summer of ferocious fighting in Basra, were not taking any risks.
The threat of kidnap was taken seriously and as night closed in after our first day in the desert the guard was doubled.
advertisementMajor Chris MacGregor, the commander of D Squadron, KRH, re-emphasised to his troops the risk from across the border a mere five miles from our camouflaged position.
Either the Iranians would try to spy on our position or perhaps even attempt to snatch a British soldier.
“Or nick one of our iPods,” one of the cavalrymen joked in reference to one of the 15 kidnapped sailors who cried when his music player was confiscated.
Operation Certain Shield continues today as part of the new thrust to clamp down on Iran’s smuggling of “lethal aid” to Iraq.
Following the withdrawal of British troops from Basra two weeks ago, the Iraqi commander in the south, General Mohan, has asked the Army to secure the flanks on either side of the city.
This will mean a near constant British presence in the large expanse of desert 12 miles from Basra and along the Shatt al Arab waterway.
Stopping the weapons coming in is vital, as with Teheran’s assistance the insurgents have achieved in one year a sophistication in bomb-making that took the Provisional IRA 20 years to develop, senior British officers told The Daily Telegraph.
Explosive Formed Projectile (EFP) bombs have penetrated the very best of British armour and regularly kill and injure soldiers.
A senior military commander in southern Iraq said the influence of Iranian manufactured munitions meant the insurgents could “attack us more decisively”.
The motivation, in what has been called a proxy war, was to “oppose asymmetrically” the pressure Western powers were applying to stop Iran’s nuclear programme and to “embarrass the coalition mission”.
Iran was also feeling the pressure with coalition troops on its borders with Iraq and Afghanistan.
“The real ability the insurgents have got is EFP penetrating our main battle tank, which they did once in April,” the senior officer said.
“That gives an idea of the capability and sophistication they have got.”
He also gave warning that the British force in Helmand province would have to prepare for “the potential movement of the capability into Afghanistan” if Iran “wanted to similarly disrupt coalition activity”.
Major Edward Dawes, the battery commander of Chestnut Troop, Royal Horse Artillery, said his six 155mm guns had rained 900 shells on insurgents firing Iranian-made rockets and mortars at Basra air base.
The deadly EFPs are made from a conical cone of steel which fires a super-heated bolt of metal that burns through nearly all armour and could only have been made on very precise machine presses.
Lt Col Patrick Sanders, who commanded 4Bn The Rifles in Basra Palace during some of the most intense warfare experienced in Basra, said the bombs were “not something you can make in a shed”.
He believed Iran’s motivation was to gain credit for “driving us out”. Iran was looking in the longer term “to humiliate the British and try and deter us from going back and doing this sort of thing again”.