Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston is a soldier in 5 Platoon, B Company, the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’. Private Thurston is based in the Nahr-e-Seraj District of Helmand Province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.
The wheat dilemma
As Eid approaches the locals are finishing harvesting the corn and preparing the fields for the wheat and poppy season. You can tell what they are planning to grow by the way the soil is banked up in the fields; in rows for poppy and squares for wheat. Most people appear to be planning to grow poppy and are quite upfront about it when you talk to them. We tell them (and they know) that growing poppy is now illegal in Afghanistan but they get a better price than wheat and are encouraged by the insurgents. It’s our job as a ground holding company and in everyone’s interests that we convince the farmers to change to wheat and that we can help them to secure the area from the insurgents.
As we settle in the locals are happy we are here and have helped us find IEDs and point out insurgents to the Afghan National Army who are very good in our location. As Eid (an Afghan celebration like Christmas) started we received intelligence that the insurgents are going on the offensive, and they were but not in our Area of Operations. Our AO has been quiet throughout the period of Eid. This has allowed us to begin mounting deliberate operations and as time goes on we are getting a feeling for the way the locals do things and how they work.
As a new Company in the area we have to do some modifications to the patrol base like winterising the accommodation and have asked the Royal Engineers to build a new Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) and front gate sangar. The weather is getting steadily colder and once the rain starts things will get a bit grim. The new sangar will overwatch the surrounding area and the new HLS. The old HLS was in a blind spot and at risk from small arms.
Caught in the act of laying an IED
As 5 Platoon, led by Captain Gardiner and Sergeant Gosling, went on a patrol the insurgents opened up. The platoon managed to push them back from the local village and into an insurgent stronghold just over our boundary and overwatch them through the night. During the contact the platoon located a suspected IED. The Counter-IED team couldn’t come out so 5 Platoon had to negotiate with a local farmer to take over his compound for the night.
The following day the Counter-IED team was able to deploy and came down with Sergeant Major Gidalla but as they reached 5 Platoon insurgents were seen digging in another IED on the route they had just used and would need to use to get back out. Luckily we were able to engage the insurgents from an Apache (Attack Helicopter). It turned out that we had caught the local insurgent commander in the act of laying an IED. The C-IED team ended up clearing three IEDs that day before all the troops could finally get back their check points for some hot scoff and a rest.
On the same day on the other side of our AO 4 Platoon went on a partnered patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA). They got intelligence of a known IED stash in a compound and we helped the ANA carry out C-IED team needed to be called out. Sergeant Janes escorted the team down to our location and now the whole Company was on the ground. The C-IED team carried out a controlled explosion on 6 x IEDs, 4 x pressure plates, 5 x battery packs and a mortar base plate. This was a good stash to find and that could have made life in our AO really hard for us and the locals.
Strong relationship with the locals
After all that has happened in our AO the locals are even more welcoming and happy with the progress we have made in such a short time. The fact that a school built by a UK charity in the local area will soon open will only do more to secure the hearts and minds of the locals. The farmers are even more happy as the corn crop in is and the wheat and poppy seed is doing down. They are using their local knowledge to help us on patrol by telling us what is going on in the area and if any strangers have been seen in the area. This all points towards a strong relationship with the locals.
On Remembrance Sunday we went out on a reassurance patrol. But like every other AO and base in Afghanistan and in the UK we remembered those fallen in battle and those who have lost the ones they love. The OC went through a short service with us all at 11 am and then it was back to work patrolling and keeping the area safe. We will remember them.