Soldier led team through Afghan ambush

Captain Mark Cripps, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles.
Captain Mark Cripps, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles.
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AN ARMY officer from Badby who foiled a complex enemy ambush while on a joint patrol in Afghanistan has been awarded his second Mention in Despatches on Friday.

Captain Mark Cripps, aged 30, of 2nd Battalion The Rifles, was at the back of the patrol with his men as support to the Afghan National Army (ANA) when they were ambushed in November last year.

Cpt Cripps and his 15-man team were alongside the ANA in the area just north of Lashkar Gah.

He said: “In the days leading up to the attack we had been engaged with small arms fire on every patrol we had been on, so we knew something was likely. We were on our way back from the patrol and as our backs were turned, that’s when we were engaged.

“It sounds odd, but you just switch into a mode. We have spent years training for this so when you get shot at you aren’t really thinking about that, you are thinking about what you should be doing and what the members of your team should be doing.

“This was my second tour of Afghanistan, I had had quite an aggressive tour, and all of my soldiers with me were experienced non-commissioned officers, so we were quite used to it in a way.”

The ANA soldiers at the front of the patrol returned to support Cpt Cripps and his soldiers.

Cpt Cripps said: “The Afghans are very brave people and they came rallying around us to give us as much support as they could. They are the boys who need more awards than we do, because they really do just walk into fire. They came and supported us.”

Realising the risk of becoming out-manoeuvred, he led a small team under heavy fire up a shallow ditch to a compound 150 metres away as bullets zipped past their heads. From his new position he was able to fire on the enemy.

He said: “Your best chance of survival is to react. If you just stay in the ditch and don’t do anything then it’s probably going to go horribly wrong and you are going to take casualties because they are not going to shoot at you unless you are at your weakest. So you need to change it and get the situation to your advantage.

“The insurgents don’t like getting close to us because they know we are good, and when we get close they just want to melt away, so actually the best way to break an engagement is to advance on it. So that’s what we tried to do.”

Cpt Cripps’s citation states: “For Cripps such action was routine in the highly dangerous ground on which he patrolled. His tactical instinct and selfless decisive conduct under fire unquestionably preserved the lives of many others. Cripps was the lynchpin that both suppressed the enemy and encouraged the ANA. This has enabled them to regain the initiative and break the enemy’s defences.”

The Mention in Despatches is one of the oldest forms of recognition for gallantry within the UK Armed Forces.