Lance Corporal Jimmy Leather, aged 28, and Lance Corporal Michael Leather, aged 22, both from 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (2 LANCS), were recently serving together, along with Michael’s brother-in-law Paul (married to Michael’s twin sister Victoria), in Musa Qal’ah, on the border with Sangin.
The brothers, who hail from Stretford, Manchester, have previously served in Iraq together and know what it’s like to fight side-by-side, as Jimmy explains:
With fighting for your brother, and fighting with your brother, your family protective instincts kick in straight away and you want to be there. It was the same when we were in Iraq on TELIC 9 together. It just spurs you up even more.
These instincts were in evidence when Jimmy was making his way back to the patrol base in his Ridgback and he heard Michael’s call sign over the radio saying they were under enemy fire:
We had gone out on a little reassure patrol and got hammered,” explained Michael.
For Jimmy, the response was immediate:
We were meant to be driving straight to the patrol base but when I heard that they were under contact I flagged it up, and the others went, ‘right, let’s go’.
As soon as we pulled up in the Ridgbacks the fighting died down and they were able to come back to base.
Despite the close call, the next day the brothers went out on a planned operation to move into a town being used to transport IEDs from Musa Qal’ah to Sangin. Michael said:
I was in charge of one of the lead assault groups to go down to take the rogue town.
Jimmy was one of those providing support from the formidable Ridgback vehicle - a role he took on to enable him to stay in Afghanistan and continue serving alongside his brother and brother-in-law after a back injury he sustained in Iraq started to give him trouble again when he was out on foot patrol:
After one or two hours my team came under constant RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire,” continued Michael. “We knew we were going to get contacted, but we went around the rear of the village and found the insurgents’ dug-in positions. They weren’t expecting us.
I moved my team onto the higher ground, but as soon as we got there we came under RPG and heavy machine gun fire. There were only four of us, so we moved down the hill with the RPGs firing on us to a ditch where we waited until we could get back up.
My team, the Sergeant Major and the medic then bomb-burst it into a walled compound and took whatever flack was being fired at us for about 20 minutes until they had to reload. At which point we got onto the walls to look for depth. The rounds kept coming for another half-hour before we could spot the actual insurgents about 200 metres away.
Meanwhile, the Ridgback vehicles - one of which contained brother-in-law Paul and brother Jimmy - had been roaming the entire area preventing any insurgent movement.
The importance of this became clear when Michael was called over the radio - an IED factory had been found containing ready-made devices and parts for them, in excess of 65 IEDs:
It was a common tactic for the insurgents - when they knew we were in an area they would throw up a fake somewhere else to draw your attention so they could bug out of the actual area,” explained Jimmy.
Because we were in Ridgbacks and cutting around all over the place they couldn’t move the things out of the factory. So all the drawing fire away that they were doing had failed.
Brother Michael agreed:
As soon as we found the IED factory everything ceased. It was like the insurgents had been trying to keep us away from that, but as soon as we engaged them and found the IED factory everything stopped.
Significantly, while they were cataloguing the cache before it was destroyed, a suspected arms smuggler arrived. As a trained tactical questioner, Michael was called upon to question the smuggler:
From my questioning of him we learnt that all the IEDs that were being made there were being transported down to Sangin.
“It took us all over an hour-and-a-half to transport all the IEDs out of the building - there were a lot - but once we found that factory there was a rapid decline in IED incidents in Sangin.”
For leading his men during the assault, Michael received a special mention, along with two other soldiers for separate incidents, when the company were presented with their Afghanistan campaign medals recently:
I’ve been trying to go back on tour again because my brother-in-law and friends are there, and to be honest I miss it,” said Michael. “If someone said to me, ‘right now pack your kit, you’re going to Afghanistan’, I’d say give me half-an-hour and I’d be done.
You miss running on adrenaline 24/7,” explained Jimmy. “When you’ve lived on the edge of getting blown up and shot at every day, it’s hard to come back to ‘normal’ life, you just want to be back out there. When you get there and it’s happening again, you just want to be back here where it’s quiet in the pub.
I worked really hard to get upgraded to deploy on HERRICK 11 because Michael and Paul were going. There was no way that two brothers were going and I was staying here.
Both brothers are currently back in Cyprus with 2 LANCS, while Paul is still in Afghanistan.
The battalion’s two-and-a-half year posting to the island includes a 15-month duty period as the Theatre Reserve Battalion, supporting operations in Afghanistan.
During this time the soldiers can be given as little as 48 hours’ notice to deploy, slotting into the existing battle group operations and supporting the brigades serving in the war-torn country. They therefore need to be in a permanent state of readiness.
It was as members of the Theatre Reserve Battalion that Jimmy and Michael went to Afghanistan, serving in Musa Qal’ah for a four-month deployment from January to April 2010.