The Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles (1 RGR), Lieutenant Colonel G M Strickland, writes about his first impressions of Afghanistan.
I am writing this from a patrol base in Helmand. It is a fortified outpost on the edge of a village, and the sound of the call to prayer from the local mosque is drifting through the hot and dusty morning air. The 1st Battalion of The Royal Gurkha Rifles came here two weeks ago to help the Afghan government bring security to this area. We took over our task from 1st Battalion, The Coldstream Guards who had spent the last six months pushing back a violent and harsh insurgency so that the families who live in these villages can go about their daily business without fear of retribution.
They had some remarkable successes, and the atmosphere in the area is very different to what it was just six months ago. We now have an opportunity. The increase in British troops that we have brought has coincided with an increase in numbers of both Afghan Army and Police, and we are now in a position to spread the security benefits out to a wider section of the population. But it will not be easy. The insurgents that we face, known locally as the Taliban although their ideological position is based more on self interest than anything else, have a grip on many of the villages in the area. They have done so through a concerted campaign of intimidation, and they are determined to hold on to what they can, much to the detriment of the farmers and small businessmen in the area. Our battle is to provide enough security so that the people have the confidence to reject the insurgents. We know that is what they want, as they tell us so constantly. To deliver this requires enormous courage, and our soldiers are showing it every day, be that by showing restraint in their response when they are under a hail of bullets and rocket-propelled grenades, or by moving through areas where we know the insurgents have placed booby traps and home-made land mines in order to get to a village to enable a development project. Our message to the insurgents and the villagers is clear: “Just look around you. You can see the security that is coming, and the benefits that it will bring. Just make sure that your sons and brothers are on the right side, and that you are helping to build a better Afghanistan.”