WO2 Marc Lovatt of the Royal Logistic Corps is working as part of the Military Stabilisation Support Group (MSSG) in central Helmand Province, Afghanistan. Here he writes about getting involved with an operation on the Patrol Base Line.
Having been in Gereshk for around three and a half months, being into the ebb and flow of the daily grind, along with having my head around several endeavours, I was generally in a comfortable position. A lot of my recent time had involved working on agricultural matters. Afghanistan is a largely agrarian society so much of my work had been alongside the Stabilisation Advisor (STABAD) for Agriculture, but that will be another blog entry. Needless to say, the work has been enjoyable and got me out and about a lot including meeting a plethora of local government officials and other fascinating individuals.
It was at this point that an opening became vacant at a distant location known as the Patrol Base Line or PBL. A large security operation had been planned for the PBL. I was to be the MSSG footprint on the ground, sorting out compensation and other concerns which the local inhabitants would undoubtedly soon be having.
The Patrol Base Line is located in the Upper Gereshk valley on the edge of the green zone and consists of four small patrol bases which are located loosely on a South to North line, along a distance of around 2km.
The views from many areas around Afghanistan are spectacular, and one can often see mile upon mile of cultivated lush fields within the green zone in one direction, and a panorama of desert in the other. These views can be even more impressive at various periods of the day, dawn and dusk in particular, and during the many varying weather conditions prevalent here in Afghanistan.
A little background to the Patrol Baseline which may be relevant at this point. Around a year ago the bases along the line, which is intended to restrict insurgent movement into the wider Gereshk area, were manned by the Afghan National Police (ANP), however after many attacks these were withdrawn. ISAF forces then took over the manning (mainly Danish Battle Group troops bolstered by UK Forces and Afghan National Army (ANA) troops), however, freedom of movement was restricted due to the poor maintenance of the road and IEDs. There was also a constant threat from attack, with many actual assaults being undertaken upon all the patrol bases. ISAF troops planned to remedy this.
The ‘Plan’ outline was to remove all IEDs and improve the overall standard of the road, thus improving security and allowing dialogue and interaction to proceed more smoothly between local nationals, and ISAF Forces. This involved the deployment of many resources, and a large manpower commitment was diverted onto the site. A major concern was damage to the surrounding area and the MSSG, ie me, was there to meet local nationals, discuss what was happening, how we could minimise disruption and keep the populace on-side.
The Operation began. 300 troops moved in, along with the headquarters element headed by a Danish Colonel. The pace was intense. The whole area was transformed into something akin to a building site. Looking out from PB Bridzar many of the fields were soon engineer parks piled with aggregate or stones and as for the new road, that was looking very impressive.
In order to engage with the local nationals I asked if a patrol to nearby villages could be undertaken. So along with the ANA, and a number of their UK advisors, a patrol went out to the village of Sorani. It was like a ghost town. The patrol quietly walked around the tree-lined pathways between the houses and myself, with a few Afghan soldiers, wandered into an open area. After a few moments one local man came out to speak to us, then a couple more, then some children and fairly soon we had around twenty individuals gathered around us. After some formalities I found myself sat among a group of villagers as we discussed the road project unfolding on their doorstep. Naturally they were all very concerned about the impact upon their fields, crops, village and surrounding area. I did my best to field the array of questions and worries that these people had, who it must be said rely largely upon the contents of the fields for their very existence. We discussed the possibilities that ISAF could bring to the area in the form of wells with hand-pumps, solar panel street lights, bridges for better access to fields along with something nearly all of them had mentioned… improved security for the area.
Due to those security concerns, the patrol Commander ordered that we move on for now. So with the message that if they had any concerns regarding their lands, or indeed if the villagers thought they could benefit from some aid from ISAF they should come to the nearby base, we moved on. As we left I thought about how impressed I was that these men had come out to talk to us.
As we passed through the village the patrol stopped to rest and drink. Suddenly a door behind me opened and a man passed out to my interpreter two large flatbreads. We sat drinking our water and sharing the bread in the shade. Afghan generosity is legendary.
The next morning I was called to the main gate of PB Bridzar… early! Some locals had come asking for MSSG Marc to talk…