Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, writes from Afghanistan looking at vehicles and equipment in use by British troops.
Getting around Helmand can be a difficult proposition, even without the flooding that we’ve been subjected to during the heavy rains this winter. With the insurgency on the back foot, the Taliban are increasingly resorting to the indiscriminate use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in an attempt to halt the increasing successes of the ANA and ISAF, and to try to disrupt life and frighten the average Helmandi into submitting to their intimidation.
Obviously we need to patrol on foot in order to protect and integrate with the people, but we also need to move long distances around our area of operations. To do this, we have been furnished with a series of what are known as “Protected Mobility” vehicles. Someone in the MOD procurement chain is clearly a dog-lover, because the vehicles all come with the somewhat incongruous names of Mastiff, Husky, Ridgback, Jackal, Springer and Wolfhound (although we also have the oddly named “Warthog” as well – clearly the MOD didn’t like the look of that particular vehicle!)
Despite the names, the striking thing about these vehicles is that they provide an unprecedented level of protection for our troops. During this tour, we have not lost a single soldier in a vehicle as a result of an IED strike, in fact we recently had a vehicle completely upended with the rear axle blown off and the tyres some 50 metres away. The injuries suffered by the troops inside amounted to one broken toe and some nasty headaches.
As well as providing protection, the vehicles also come with firepower, enabling them to provide support to the troops patrolling on foot when necessary. All-in-all, we are extremely well-catered for when it comes to moving over land.
We are also receiving much more in the way of personal protection from the impact of IEDs, small arms and shrapnel. Our new Mark 7 ballistic helmets have saved numerous lives, as has the Osprey body armour. We have anti-shrapnel glasses, protective underpants (would you believe!) and for those lovers of the second series of “Blackadder”, the combat cod-piece is even making a comeback. We also have ear-protection that works in harness with our personal combat radios. I have to say that in 23 years in the Army I have never been issued with quite so much kit and equipment!
Notwithstanding the protective equipment that we have, the real heroes out here, and the people that are doing the real work to prevent both civilians and soldiers alike from suffering the effects of these lethal IEDs, are the young men and women whose task it is to find and defuse them. Day in and day out, from the young infantryman with metal detector in hand at the head of his multiple, to Advanced Search Teams sent to clear through areas, to the IED operators from all three services sent to defuse them, they demonstrate extreme bravery and are at the forefront of our protective capability – their skills far outweighing the effectiveness of any equipment that we can wear or carry.
We have come a long way in protecting our soldiers since I first joined the Army all those years ago in 1988 – we certainly wouldn’t have considered the need to wear codpieces back then.