Building relations with my ANA commanders

Some of the ANA soldiers I advise

Some of the ANA soldiers I advise

Lieutenant David Duffus is a Platoon Commander living in a patrol base in Sangin, advising the Afghan National Army, for Operation HERRICK 12. Here he writes about getting to know his ANA counterparts.

Now three months into my tour of Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 12, we have seen significant changes to our patrol base, our Afghan National Army (ANA) counterparts as well our own ISAF Team. We have now built up strong relationships with our counterparts, the ANA and the Royal Marines as well as the local population.

The heat is already verging on unbearable and is only going to get worse. Our patrol base is situated to the south of the Sangin bazaar on the fringe of the Green Zone in the Sangin DC. We are co-located with the ANA Heavy Weapons Company (HWC) Headquarters, and a patrols platoon from the HWC. I have a small advisor team that consists of roughly 8 men, which is the bare minimum to be able to deploy on the ground in order to mentor the ANA command element on patrols. We are fully partnered with a troop from the Royal Marines who are situated a couple of compounds away.

On every patrol we deploy with roughly 8-10 ANA ‘warriors’, my advisor team and a team of Royal Marines. Between us and the Royal Marines we have already experienced everything from suicide bombers and IED strikes to insurgent ambushes.

Me and my interpreter talking to locals on patrol in the backstreets of Sangin

Me and my interpreter talking to locals on patrol in the backstreets of Sangin

We have built up a strong relationship with the ANA and I am now advising my 3rd ANA Company Commander due to R&R and injuries, At the start of Herrick 12 my counterpart was Lt Fahim who is the Heavy Weapons Company second-in-command. I worked with Lt Fahim for two months and established a strong relationship with him, as well as a good understanding of each other. About 10 weeks into my tour Lt Fahim left Sangin for Kabul on his R&R. Just prior to Lt Fahim’s departure the HWC Commanding Officer, Captain Ashraf, returned from his R&R. Just eight days after his return we were caught up in an insurgent ambush. The insurgents hit our patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and multiple bursts of small arms fire. Capt Ashraf was shot in the head but miraculously escaped with only minor injuries. He went back to Camp Bastion hospital for treatment. Although Capt Ashraf had only been in situ for a short period of time, the good relationship that I had established with Lt Fahim had carried over. However Capt Ashraf had a different approach to things and I was just beginning to understand his methods when he was shot. Lt Alladaat took over as commander. He was previously a platoon commander within HWC. This meant that I had to build another fresh relationship with him. I have been working with Lt Alladaat for nearly a month now, and after a number of arguments and disagreements we now have a good relationship.

Me and one of my advisory team, Corporal Dennis Skinner

Me and one of my advisory team, Corporal Dennis Skinner

The relationship between the Advisor Group and the ANA, especially the ANA commander is by far the most critical component to a successful tour of Afghanistan. If you do not have a good working relationship with the ANA it is almost impossible to accomplish anything: both ANA development and having a positive effect on the population.

My ability to be able to interact with the ANA in Dari has been a huge factor in the strong relationship we have with the ANA. The task would have been a lot harder had I not had a good understanding of their culture and the language.

The 40-week language course I completed was not just about learning the language. With learning the language came learning the Afghan culture. If anything my understanding of how the Afghan culture works, and how they themselves work, has been more important than the language itself. When we have an argument or disagreement, I can calm the situation or change the subject myself, rather than having to go through the Interpreter. The luxury of not having to use an interpreter when speaking to the ANA is a big bonus.  You can get a lot more across speaking directly to them than if you are using an interpreter. The ANA can also approach you themselves, and more frequently, as they are not having to find or wait for an Interpreter.

When out on patrol is the time when I really realise how beneficial being able to speak Dari actually is. If we get attacked by insurgents, or experience an IED strike, I can liaise with the ANA directly and immediately. In the situations we have been faced with out on patrol this can make all the difference between life and death. A misinterpretation between you the ANA and the Interpreter can have huge consequences.

Although Sangin is predominantly Pashtu-speaking, a small proportion of the locals can understand some basic Dari. This means that when I am on patrol I can engage with the local nationals. The local nationals are much more inclined to speak to me in Dari than they would be if I spoke to them in English through an interpreter. As the tour has progressed I have found that local nationals are comfortable speaking to me and providing me information knowing that I can speak Dari and understand their cultural point of view.

All in all, living alongside the ANA day-in day-out as well as having experienced all of the situations we’ve been faced with together, has all contributed to a strong relationship between the ANA and the Advisor Team and hopefully one that can continue throughout the duration of our tour.