In his final blog, Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, outgoing spokesman for Task Force Helmand, looks back at six months in Afghanistan.
Of course I knew that it was coming. It has been planned for some time now, but it still feels very strange knowing that my time in Afghanistan is virtually over and I am on my way back to my family. In a few weeks’ time I will move to London to work at the Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) in Northwood, and the experiences of the last 6 months will be a distant memory.
I am on my way to Cyprus for the mandatory decompression period, during which I will receive various briefs on how to reintegrate back into my family, and cope with “normal” life again. Looking back, this is such a strange environment; an emotional rollercoaster during which you experience almost daily highs and lows. The tragedy of each lost or seriously wounded soldier set against the creation of another school, or a village delivered from intimidation by their own Afghan troops mentored by our soldiers. The workdays starting before dawn and working through until the late hours – no weekend, no holidays – everyone committed to making sure that we make the most of our time here to drive forward the campaign.
In many respects we have been the benefactors of a winter campaign during which the insurgency has a tendency to slow down slightly, whilst at the same time we have enjoyed additional resources with the closure of Sangin, reducing the size of our area of responsibility and providing an additional Battle Group for us to utilise. This has meant that we have been able to maintain the security of the protected villages that the Combined Afghan and ISAF Forces have cleared of insurgents, enabling the ground troops to chase them into the desert.
This is a very exciting phase of the campaign and there are green shoots of optimism emerging that will almost certainly be tested by the oncoming summer months. The Taliban seem to be on the back foot in Helmand, as you will have seen from the press coverage. Whether this continues to be the case will play out over the coming few months. So, as 16 Air Assault Brigade begins to handover to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, there is a feeling that we have made a difference; hopefully this is for the long term.
It has been a real experience coming back to Afghanistan after 4 years, and I have been hugely impressed with the progress that has been made in that time, both in terms of security and development. The level of understanding that we now have of what we are dealing with is light years ahead of our understanding in 2006, although we are probably still scratching the surface of some of the more intricate complexities and relationships of inter and intra-tribal dynamics. I look forward to seeing the difference during my next tour!
Having taken over from a cavalryman (James Carr-Smith from the Royal Dragoon Guards), I have handed over to a cavalryman, Tim Purbrick from the Queen’s Royal Lancers – my Father’s former Regiment as it happens, so it is great to see the skull and cross-bones “motto” (Cap-badge) again. Tim is a soldier, although he will be the “face” of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. For the uninitiated, the Royal Marines are not soldiers. They actually belong to Navy Command, so Tim will need to adjust to the Navy way of doing business, which will make life even more interesting for him than it was for me! I wish him, and 3 Commando Brigade all the very best for the next 6 months.