Lieutenant Colonel Tim Purbrick, the spokesman for Task Force Helmand, blogs about visiting the British Embassy in Kabul and a good week for Helmand.
The Entente Cordiale arrived in Task Force Helmand in the shape of Lieutenant Colonel Hervé Pierre of the French Marines who is about to become the Military Assistant to the Chief of the French Army Staff in Paris. Hervé came on a month long attachment to see how we are conducting operations in Afghanistan, a reflection of the growing rapport between our respective Armed Forces. I did put down a little marker for a return attachment to the Ministry of Defence in Paris to ‘understand the French approach to Media Operations’…..
When I flew up to Kabul in March the Hindu Kush was covered in deep snow. This time the barren landscape, now snowless, looked just as uninhabitable except for the thin strips of green either side of a mountain stream or river. I wondered what life must be like for the people in the middle of such inhospitable and remote places as those little valleys. Maybe they’re all watching the shopping channel on satellite TV or maybe they’re hardy, independent people living a very traditional lifestyle.
Up in Kabul Wing Commander Pat O’Donnell, the Director of the Joint Media Operations Centre (JMOC) in Camp Bastion, and I were met by Wing Commander Mark Harding, the Strategic Communications Officer at the British Embassy in Kabul, along with the Embassy security detail who whisked us through the Hyde Park Corner style traffic to the relative calm of the Embassy. That afternoon we met with some of the new staff who are dealing with the media in Kabul and attended a press conference given by Mark Sedwill, the Foreign Secretary’s Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. At 6,000ft, Kabul is twice as high as Lashkar Gah and quite a bit cooler which made a pleasant change from the 45-50 deg C that is our daily fare in Helmand during the hottest part of the summer. Never one to miss an opportunity, I had a splash in the Embassy swimming pool and then we were back at the air head for the flight back to Bastion.
Back in Helmand there was good news. We turned up the largest find of home-made explosive chemicals ever found in the Province when intelligence from the National Directorate of Security (NDS), the Afghan MI5, led to the recovery and destruction of more than 4,000 kgs of ammonium nitrate. According to our Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force this could have made more than 800 IEDs. The operation to interdict the chemicals was led by the NDS’s elite counter-terrorist unit, Bost 170, and partnered with Task Force Helmand’s Brigade Reconnaissance Force. The 80 strong combined force dropped in, almost on top of the hidden cache, in two RAF CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Having examined the haul and taken samples for evidence, they blew it up leaving a 10m wide crater in the desert for the insurgents to think about. A lot of lives and limbs have been saved. A good week for Helmand.
When I returned to my desk in Task Force Helmand’s Headquarters there was a huge parcel waiting for me from No 10 Downing St. It had been sent by Vickie Sheriff, the Prime Minister’s Deputy Spokesman and a TA officer in the MOG(V). The parcel contained tins of No 10 Downing St branded sweets – we’ve now all got a tin on our desks here in the office. I’ve got some of them left over for ‘influence’ gifts. I might just say, as I give them to someone, ‘the Prime Minister asked me to give you this as a small token….’
Taking the dog for a walk is something that a lot of people do at home every day but being able to take the dog for a walk when you’re deployed on operations in Afghanistan is not something that really crosses your mind. Military working dogs are a tremendous force multiplier, searching for explosives, drugs and protecting soldiers and sites, and we have some of them based with us in Lashkar Gah to search vehicles. For the last few days Misty the search dog has been dragging me around the camp at 7.30 in the morning before we both start our day’s work. Her tour has lasted two years and she’ll be returning home next month.