Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Herbert, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) writes about progress so far at the halfway stage of their tour.
1 SCOTS has now been in Afghanistan for almost 3 months, and as we approach the halfway point it is worth reflecting on the challenges and progress of the last few months.
Our role, providing embedded advice and support to the Afghan National Army’s 3/215 Brigade, is both challenging and rewarding. It has soldiers of mixed capability and motivation, and many of the troops with whom we work have been fighting hard in Central Helmand for the last 4 years. They are understandably tired, unnerved by the continued threat, and at times ambivalent about their own development. However, we have a brand new Brigade Headquarters in charge of them, some newly-fielded units, and some leaders with the same desire to achieve campaign success as us. It is therefore a mixed group who we are supporting, with differing requirements, and thus there is no easy template for how we achieve institutional development.
We have focused our efforts where most required, developing their officers and sergeants, encouraging a sense of leadership and a greater willingness to exercise ownership of this campaign. We have also worked hard to enhance their logistical supply processes and their personnel management systems; both areas of well-known weakness. At the same time, we have focused our training efforts on developing those capabilities that they will need more and more as they transition to a security lead. These include reconnaissance, IED disposal, intelligence, planning, search and engineering development, but also continued focus on the basics like patrol leadership, first aid skills, communications and shooting. My focus – whilst overseeing all of this – has been on supporting and developing the new Brigade Commander, a bear of a man with huge combat experience but little formal training.
I am very confident that we are achieving success, but it is slow, and it is incremental. This is perhaps unsurprising in a country that has been racked by war for the past three decades. I suspect that we do not have decades to achieve success, and therefore it is essential that we focus our limited resources where best required. Our progress is noted by the Afghans themselves; they are harsh judges, quick to criticise, quick to point out our own mistakes, but generally appreciative where they see our complete commitment.
None of this, of course, really illustrates the tremendous work done by the young officers, non-commissioned officers and ‘Jocks’ of the Brigade Advisor Group on a day-to-day basis alongside their Afghan allies. Their job would be frustrating and difficult during peacetime, but the challenges are magnified a thousand-fold by the environment in Central Helmand, where the threat is ever-present, the enemy resilient and determined, and the conditions austere. They have my utmost respect for what they do. Ordinary people, doing extraordinary things, day after day. It is reassuring therefore to hear of the increased support this year to Armed Forces Day, where their sacrifices and their courage have been formally recognised.