A new career in journalism

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman MBE REME is currently serving as the Task Force Helmand Spokesman and SO1 Media Operations with 16 Air Assault Brigade in Lashkar Gah on Operation HERRICK 13. In his latest blog he looks back on going out to report personally on an operation.

We have had an extremely busy week since I last reported – unfortunately it has also been a sad one: we lost one of our Royal Engineer Search Team members, Corporal David Barnsdale, and a Danish soldier working with Task Force Helmand, Private Mikkel Jørgensen.

With much of the focus of the Brigade on Operation OMID CHAR in Nahr-e Saraj, I had no resources left to cover another operation (Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5) with the Royal Highland Fusiliers (2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland), so I took one of our cameras, donned my gear and  embarked on a new career in journalism.

At 5 o’ clock in the morning I joined a 2 SCOTS convoy, in the back of a Ridgback protected mobility vehicle, heading out to a rendezvous – or RV – with the Afghan National Security Forces.  As dawn broke we approached the RV and were greeted by the sight of hundreds of Afghan National Police, Afghan Border Police and National Directorate of Security troops in their 4×4 wagons and Humvees waiting for us to join them.

Me with Colonel Kamalluddin

Me with Colonel Kamalluddin

The aim of the operation was to clear through a large area to the east of Lashkar Gah that was suffering from Taliban oppression and a lack of engagement from the Government. The operation had been put together by Colonel Kamalludin, the District Chief of Police for Lashkar Gah, and was being supported by his British Army mentor, Lieutenant Colonel Dougie Graham, the Commanding Officer of 2 SCOTS Battle Group.

Within minutes of the operation beginning we found our first Improvised Explosive Device (IED) not far from where we stood in the RV. Luckily for us a local national had seen the Taliban placing it and he came over to point out where it was before we set it off – a promising start if all the locals were going to be this cooperative. Colonel Kamalludin sent his men off in all directions to the compounds surrounding our Line of Departure and we sat with him in the centre on an old blanket in true Afghan fashion discussing the plan, coordinating the troops and drinking tea.  After half an hour of discussion it was time to move on. Given the potential for insurgent activity we had intended to mount our vehicles for the 10km or so route to the limit of exploitation for the operation, but Colonel Kamalludin had other ideas. “We must walk,” he said, “firstly because it is healthy and secondly to show that we are not afraid.”

ANSF troops preparing for Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5

ANSF troops preparing for Operation ZMARAY SARAK 5

Our luck continued for the rest of the day and on nearing the end of our planned route, the locals came to our assistance again, warning us that the area ahead of us was “seeded” with a large number of IEDs and insurgents waiting in ambush – this was not to be their day. By the end of the operation, Colonel Kamalludin’s troops were able to capture a member of the Taliban, including one of their prestigious white flags, three drug runners with 250kg of heroin and some weaponry, and we were attacked only once.

From my perspective, this operation was very much a glimpse of the future. Afghan conceived, planned and led with cross-government support from the Afghans and minimal support from our troops, an area that was formally under the control of the Taliban is now firmly in the sights of the local Government. There is much more to do here, and more operations of this type will be necessary to ensure that the population is protected from the insurgency; there is also much scope for infrastructure development, but the mere fact that the locals were willing to talk with the Afghan Security Forces and ISAF troops, helping us to locate insurgents and their IEDs provides significant hope.