Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, the Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, writes once again with an update from Afghanistan.
Operation OMID HAFT, or HOPE SEVEN, has now come to an end. Our Afghan National Security Force partners, supported by Task Force Helmand, have expanded the protected community to the north and west, out to the banks of the Nahr-e Bughra canal which runs down the western flank of the Central Helmand food zone.
“Food zone” might sound like an odd way to describe a place but as I was padding through some fields and irrigation ditches the other day with the Highlanders of The Clan – D Company 4 SCOTS based out of Check Point (CP) Yellow 14 – the farmers were just planting their third wheat crop of the year. When the kind of mechanised, industrial scale farming that we have in the west comes here to replace the scythe-cut, hand-winnowed, man-carried harvesting they do at present there will be no stopping this highly fertile grain basket. On the other hand, all the scything, winnowing and man-carried haystacks gave our early morning patrol an almost magical quality – if you ignore the guns, body armour and other kit and equipment that we were carrying – it was as if we had stepped back in time, wading through streams, crunching across wheat fields, resting in the shade of compound walls and all the time exchanging greetings with the locals who were out in the fields taking in the harvest, irrigating fields or on their way to work.
We were accompanied on the patrol by John Ward and Alban Donohoe of the Daily Star Sunday who were here to report on The Clan for their paper. Tagging along with the patrol was the D Company dog whose official name is Juno but who also goes by the name of Dave. It was like taking the dog out for a walk only in the fine company of well-armed Highlanders. Our faithful hound ran up and down the patrol chasing birds, swimming the irrigation channels and seeing off any other dogs we came across, kept under strict control by Warrant Officer Class 2 Scott Smith, The Clan’s Company Sergeant Major.
Major Israel is the Afghan National Police Commander at CP Yellow 14. He’s a bit of a Tom Selleck lookalike, only this is one Magnum PI without a Ferrari but who is actually doing the job for real and in shovelfuls. He is very well-respected in the area, especially as he comes from nearby, and he runs a pretty tight ship in a place where just six months ago neither we nor his police officers could cross the bridge just 100m outside the base without being shot at. Today, largely thanks to his efforts and those of 2 and 4 SCOTS, The Clan and the cops are over the bridge – or under it – every day and I don’t think that they have had a single ‘contact’ with the insurgents so far this tour. Now that’s success.
Back at the HQ in Lashkar Gah I caught up with Lieutenant Colonel Johnny Biggart, the outgoing Commanding Officer of the Scots Dragoon Guards (SCOTS DG), and his icon of Tsar Nicholas II who was Colonel of the Scots Greys. The icon was presented to the Regiment by a member of the Royal Family when the Tsar was re-interred in St Petersberg, a ceremony for which the SCOTS DG provided a Guard of Honour. The Tsar’s icon now goes with the Regiment whenever it deploys on operations as does the Royal Standard of Scotland which the Commanding Officer is one of the few permitted by Her Majesty to fly as his personal standard.
To summarise the end of Operation OMID HAFT we helped to organise a press conference with the local media here in Lashkar Gah on behalf of our partners in the Afghan National Army and Police. I went down to the Governor’s Media Centre to discuss arrangements with Dawood Ahmadi, the Governor’s Spokesman, and Khanzad, the Chief Press Officer. We had been hoping to attract the Governor, Gulab Mangal, to come and open a Royal Engineers-built bridge over the Nahr-e Bughra Canal, just next to the newly-established Check Point Salaang, but the Governor had business in Kabul and it was decided to hold the press conference at our base in Lashkar Gah. Fifteen members of the media came, representing local and national Afghan media and the international press agencies. They were briefed by Brigadier General Shirinshah, the Commander of 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, and Colonel Ismail from Police Headquarters. It seemed to go well, there was coverage in the press the next day and we all shared a good lunch produced by the 5* catering services here at Lash.
Miles Amoore from The Sunday Times knocked on our main gate the other day and came in to interview the Deputy Commander, Colonel Andrew Jackson. Miles was staying downtown and said that he had had a pretty good reception as he walked around the city, as it’s not every day that an Englishman is seen in the midday sun in the Lash bazaar. He was wearing the dishdash that locals wear, it’s cooler than western clothes although, as it’s 45 degrees, the benefit is probably pretty marginal – certainly a little hotter than Kabul where Miles is usually based. Two years ago Miles was reporting on 2 RIFLES in Sangin when his brother, Jim, who was then and still is serving in 2 RIFLES was severely wounded.
The Rt Hon William Hague MP, the Foreign Secretary, and His Highness Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates, visited Lashkar Gah to be updated by the Provincial Reconstruction Team. The UAE is making a significant and generous contribution, both militarily and financially, to support the mission here in Afghanistan – part of the coalition of nearly 50 nations which make up the International Security Assistance Force. The Foreign Secretary went on to be briefed at Task Force Helmand.
Finally, I had a parcel from home. I knew there was something up with this one as there was chocolate oozing out of one end. Using my Army-supplied Gerber knife I made the necessary surgical incisions and exposed what looked like a used baby’s nappy. I’m ashamed to say that my greed overcame me and I did start to lick it off but a mouthful of chocolate-infused Private Eye was enough to persuade me to stop, along with the howls of disgust from the others in the office. What chocolate I could salvage went into the fridge to turn liquid back into solid.