An insurgent bomber, caught red-handed laying deadly improvised explosive devices, is facing a life of imprisonment after a British soldier from the 1st Battalion Irish Guards gave chase across a minefield to catch him.
The insurgent, who could have caused the deaths of many troops or Afghan civilians, is facing Afghan justice thanks to Guardsman Lewis Wilby’s heroic actions.
Despite being weighed down with more than 60lbs (27kg) of kit, the 26-year-old Irish Guardsman outran the bomber, sprinting across uncleared ground where IEDs were known to have been laid, and caught him as he tried desperately to hide out in a local villager’s compound.
Because of the weight and bulkiness of the state-of-the-art protective equipment they wear and carry, British troops are dubbed ‘donkeys’ by the insurgents - but while the fleeing insurgent frantically threw off his clothes as he ran in an effort to shed weight, Guardsman Wilby overcame his disadvantage through sheer determination and effort.
Sweating and panting from his failed attempt to escape, the insurgent was detained and taken back to the Irish Guards’ patrol base where, along with one of his accomplices, he was handed over to the Afghan authorities.
The incident took place on the morning of Sunday 16 January, in the vicinity of the tiny Patrol Base Ernie, situated in the village of Rahim Kalay in the Upper Gereshk Valley.
Two insurgents had been under surveillance for 48 hours, and were watched overnight as they laid IEDs in one of the most northerly and isolated places in the British area of operations in Helmand.
As the surveillance showed them moving closer towards Patrol Base Ernie, near enough to be intercepted, the Irish Guards got ready to pounce. On being given the order by the Company Commander, Major Mickey Stewart, the multiple of troops swept in - confusing the insurgents by coming at them from various directions.
Led by Lieutenant Edward Roffe-Silvester, and with Guardsman Wilby at the front, the team patrolled rapidly to outflank and cut off the insurgents. Realising they were being pursued, the insurgents tried to flee - but one was detained immediately when quick-thinking Guardsmen Joshua Gibbins and Lewis Done threw themselves at him, wrestling him to the ground.
While this was going on, the other insurgent tried to make a break for it, abandoning his sidekick and sprinting off across the IED belt. But he did not account for Guardsman Wilby who, without a moment’s consideration, gave chase, with Lieutenant Roffe-Silvester following close behind.
Guardsman Wilby said:
These two insurgents had been watched by surveillance laying IEDs, and we were tasked to detain them, so that’s what we did. The adrenalin was pumping as we chased them to a compound but it was so satisfying when we detained the insurgent and took him to be arrested.
I had to run through an IED belt which is not something I want to try again - but I made the judgement that, by watching carefully the route that the insurgent took, and following it as closely as possible, I would be OK.
It feels like a massive achievement because we’ve caught a bloke who wanted to hurt my comrades. We’ve had a tough time, but knowing I got a guy who has laid IEDs to try to kill us makes me happy.
Major Stewart added:
The insurgent was completely taken by surprise when Guardsman Wilby and his platoon commander chased him down. It was a snap decision to give chase.
I am certain that the insurgent caught by Guardsman Wilby was involved with a 15kg IED we dug out of the ground the day before, and it is very likely he was responsible for serious injuries sustained by members of the company group in previous weeks.
Guardsman Wilby’s usual role within his platoon is the ‘point man’, leading patrols with a metal detector, looking out for signs of improvised explosive devices.