Saturday, April 16, 2011

'I just grabbed the geezer': Hero squaddie seizes top Taliban leader after desert FIST FIGHT

Face to face with a Taliban bomber after a high-speed desert chase, Private Lee Stephens acted on instinct and adrenalin.

With no time to consider his own safety, he leapt unarmed from his Warrior armoured vehicle, dragged the insurgent from his motorcycle and laid into him with his fists.

Gunner Pte Stephens, 30, from Solihull, did not have time to get his gun. He said: ‘I jumped out and I grabbed the geezer.

It was mark one left, mark two right fists. That was it. No weapons, just my hands.’

It was only afterwards that the full significance of his heroics became clear. His prey turned out to be the highest-ranking Taliban captured by regular British forces in Afghanistan, a long-wanted bomb-making expert.

Asked about his actions, Pte Stephens said: ‘My muckers were getting shot at and I thought “I’m not having that”.’

It was only after searching the rebel that he could be sure the man wasn’t wearing an explosive vest. He said: ‘I was quite lucky, to be fair. It could have been nasty. It’s like the Wild West out here.

Lance Corporal Jake Podmore, 22, from Stoke-on-Trent, commanding a second Warrior, dismounted and covered Pte Stephens with his pistol. He said of his friend: ‘He was like a little hero running out.’

But with the Taliban captive subdued, the drama continued.

Four men pulled up in two cars. Two were wearing Afghan police uniforms and two civilian clothing. Suicide bombers have been known to disguise themselves as police and the men were refusing to show identification, being aggressive and trying to take hold of the prisoner.

Sgt Jonathan Werrett, 31, and Cpl Robert Hirst, 28, both from Walsall, and LCpl Ashley Coxon, 25, and LCpl Matt Ryder, 23, both from Burton upon Trent, were running across the desert to provide back-up.

When they got there one of the Afghans was claiming the detainee had killed his brother. He said he would die before leaving without him.

LCpl Ryder handcuffed the prisoner and put him in the back of a vehicle. But the two Warriors then had to leave to support another team under fire.

Sgt Werrett, Cpl Hirst and LCpl Coxon were left facing off against the four armed Afghans. Sgt Werrett said: ‘We stood there looking at each other. And slowly, without a word, we began to move away from each other and that was it.’

Lieutenant Colonel Giles Woodhouse, commanding officer, 3 Mercian, said: ‘Pte Stephens’s action has possibly saved the lives not only of my own soldiers, but also those of the Afghan forces. That has to be a great result.’ Pte Stephens signed off from the Army before the tour but said he might stay on. He had told his mother, Linda, who works in a bakery, and his girlfriend, Gayle Reynolds, 32, a nurse, about what he had done.

‘My mum was a bit gobsmacked. My girlfriend kept saying to me “No wonder I’m going grey”.’

The drama started when soldiers from B Company, 3rd Battalion the Mercian Regiment, based at Durai Junction, pushed into an insurgent hotspot two weeks ago.

They realised they had had a lucky escape when a bomb was found by a foot soldier.

They secured the area, but then saw the motorcyclist. Lieutenant Martyn Fulford, 24, of Gloucester, said: ‘It tied in to reports that there were suicide bombers preparing to attack us.’

When the bike came within 30 yards, a barrage of insurgent gunfire opened up from behind him – and the Warrior chase began.

Daily Mail


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