Back from R&R

Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, blogs once again from Afghanistan. He’s now back at work after two weeks of rest and recuperation time. In his post he looks towards the end of Operation HERRICK 13 and at the progress made so far.

So here I am, back again in Lashkar Gah after a fabulous two weeks at home with my lovely wife and very excitable children. As is always the case with these things, although I have been away for almost 3 weeks when you factor in travel, as soon as you return to the familiar sights, smells and sounds (not to mention the sand) of Afghanistan it feels as though you have hardly been away. Leaving my family behind after such a short period was as hard as ever, but at least my children are at an age now when they understand that I will be coming back again, which is a great improvement on my last tour.

16 Air Assault Brigade is now well over half way through the deployment, in fact some of our units will start to pull out in a few weeks, such is the protracted nature of moving thousands of soldiers in and out of an operational area. As you can imagine, the logistics of doing this without significantly affecting operations is difficult at best and requires a great deal of planning, most of which started at the beginning of the operation. But there is still some time to go before we leave, and much still to do in our last few months.

Major Nick Wight-Boycott, Officer Commanding D Company 5 SCOTS, holds a shura with local elders near Patrol Base ATTAL.

Major Nick Wight-Boycott, Officer Commanding D Company 5 SCOTS, holds a shura with local elders near Patrol Base ATTAL.

So, having completed over half of the deployment where are we so far? The best description that I have heard so far is that we are “cautiously optimistic”. The increase in troop numbers that we benefited from as a result of the handover of Sangin has meant that we have been able to expand the areas of security for the local people, and more importantly, to sustain that level of security, especially with the increase in Afghan National Police and Army numbers. The insurgency has largely been driven into the lesser populated areas of Central Helmand, and the insurgents themselves are under significant pressure, both from Afghan Forces and ISAF direct action, and from the pressure of local people to end the violence and let development progress.

Helmand Police Training Centre Pass Out Parade

Helmand Police Training Centre Pass Out Parade

The ANA have completed a number of operations, have gained in confidence and are able to function much more independently than they were able to even a year ago, although there is still some way to go. The ANP are also developing apace with a great deal of focus on driving out corruption and recruiting locally. The Helmand Police Training Centre has had a significant impact on improving the professionalism of the Police, and with the assistance and support of the elders of Central Helmand the standard of recruit should continue to increase.

A soldier of the Afghan National Army resting during Op OMID PANJ, an ANA-led operation in January 2011.

A soldier of the Afghan National Army resting during Op OMID PANJ, an ANA-led operation in January 2011.

The linkages between local villages, the Districts and the Provincial Governor are also starting to improve with the implementation of Village Development Councils to provide a voice for the people and a focus for their concerns. We take for granted the level of local governance that we enjoy in the UK, but it is not as ingrained in the Afghan culture as much as it is in ours, and so we are in the business of persuading the local people that working alongside the Government rather than the insurgency is to their benefit in the long run.

ANA IED specialists clearing a route during Operation OMID PANJ in January 2011.

ANA IED specialists clearing a route during Operation OMID PANJ in January 2011.

Of course, this is an upbeat view and there are areas where progress has not been so obvious. The key will be to see whether the achievements that have been made so far are sustainable when the annual spring offensive kicks in with the return of the more senior Taliban leaders to Helmand, following their winter sabbatical. We shall see in the very near future.