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Royal Marines from Victor Company, 45 Commando conducted the operation in the early hours of the morning, creeping out of their remote Forward Operating Base, Zeebruge, in the mountainous region of Kajaki, under the cover of darkness.

With the assaulting troops now in place, the fire support group moved into an over-watch position on the flank, ready to support with machineguns and grenade launchers.

The Company Headquarters, hidden on a sand dune overlooking the objective, could see the Taliban sentries change over and, as the sun rose above the mountains, the Company Commander gave the order to engage, triggering a deliberate and punishing assault on the Taliban's defensive network, with the coordination of ground, mortar, artillery and air weapons, orchestrated to cause maximum disruption with minimum collateral damage to the wider area.

A surgical air strike aided the Commandos of Victor Company in their assault (above). Photo: Cpl Darcy. Members of Victor Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines, at Kajaki in northern Helmand (below). Photo: Nick Tryon

The ferocity of the Commandos' attack had fixed the enemy in their trenches and pinned them down. An aircraft was then called in and dropped two precision bombs which destroyed the enemy bunkers and dug-in defensive positions. Almost immediately intelligence reports came in indicating the local Taliban commander had been killed during the raid.

Arbroath-based 45 Commando Royal Marines operating in Helmand

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Upper Sangin Valley

province have responsibility for the Upper Sangin Valley, which stretches from Forward Operating Base Gibraltar near Gereshk in the south, north through Sangin following the Helmand River Valley, all the way up to the Kajaki Dam.

Victor Company defends the Kajaki Dam from attacks by the Taliban. The dam is critical to southern Afghanistan as its turbines provide electrical power and water to a huge proportion of the Afghan population in Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

The dam is at an altitude of 4,000' (1,219m) and Victor Company are specially trained for high altitude, cold weather warfare. With limited re-supply and basic living conditions, Kajaki looks like the final frontier. The Taliban surround the area, but Victor Company own the high ground and patrol continuously to dominate the local area. Very few Afghan civilians live here, most having left years previously because of Taliban intimidation. — Courtesy MoD

pirates apprehended

Visit, board, search and seizure team members (VBSS) in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) close in to apprehend suspected pirates. Vella Gulf is the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, a multi-national task force conducting counterpiracy operations to detect and deter piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. USN photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

Visit, board, search and seizure team members (VBSS) in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) close in to apprehend suspected pirates. Vella Gulf is the flagship for Combined Task Force 151, a multi-national task force conducting counterpiracy operations to detect and deter piracy in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Gulf, Indian Ocean and Red Sea. USN photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

The crew of the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) apprehended seven suspected pirates in the Gulf of Aden last February after responding to a distress call from a nearby merchant vessel. The event marks the first time CTF-151 has apprehended suspected pirates.

On February 11, the Marshall Islands-flagged Motor Vessel Polaris sent a distress call to all ships in the area reporting a small skiff containing seven suspected pirates had attempted a forcible boarding of their vessel using a ladder. Polaris crewmembers removed the ladder before pirates could come aboard.

Vella Gulf closed immediately with the M/V Polaris and intercepted a skiff matching the description given by the motor vessel. The skiff contained individuals fitting the physical descriptions given by Polaris crewmembers. A Vella Gulf visit, board, search and seizure team conducted a consensual boarding and found several weapons.

Visit, board, search and seizure team members (VBSS) in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) apprehend suspected pirates and take them into custody. USN photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

Visit, board, search and seizure team members (VBSS) in a rigid-hulled inflatable boat (RHIB) from the guided-missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG 72) apprehend suspected pirates and take them into custody. USN photo: Mass Communications Specialist 2nd Class Jason R. Zalasky

M/V Polaris rendezvoused with Vella Gulf and provided positive visual identification of the suspected pirates. The suspected pirates were brought on board Vella Gulf, where they were processed and are being held until they transfer to a temporary holding facility on board the supply ship USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1).

CTF 151, a multinational task force, conducts counter-piracy operations in and around the Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and was established to create a lawful maritime order and develop security in the maritime environment. — Commander, US Naval Forces Central Command/5th Fleet Public Affairs royal marines catch taliban off guard

Operation Ghartse Palang, which means "lion," involved around 120 Royal Marines from 45 Commando Group and other attached ranks, along with around 30 Afghan National Army (ANA) troops.

The Marines launched the operation in the early morning of 19 January 2009 by moving silently under the cover of darkness and through wet and cold to their line of departure on the banks of the River

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