Major Simon Doyle MBE is the Officer Commanding C Company of 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the Tigers. Simon has responsibility for Area of Operations Centre-South, as a part of Combined Force Nad e-Ali, headed by 3 SCOTS.
A lot has happened since the last update from C Coy. Winter has arrived with a rapid reduction in the temperature, a number of checkpoints have been transferred to Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) lead and the company has steeled itself for a move North to provide support to another area of Task Force Helmand. During this time we have also witnessed our sister companies experience the first 1PWRR casualties of the tour which has reminded everyone of the underlying threat across the area.
It has been heartening however to see the very positive and mature way all ranks have dealt with the news of casualties, including the death of Private Tom Lake on 21 November, who had been a friend and brother in arms to some of the company prior to our deployment to theatre. It is fair to say that many within the company have grown up a little more in the last few weeks and have dealt impressively with a number of very different challenges.
Handing over ISAF checkpoints
Progress across Nad-e-Ali has been startling since we arrived in theatre during September. Insurgent violence has decreased dramatically and in many areas Insurgent presence is practically non-existent. The ANSF are increasingly confident in their ability to plan and conduct routine patrols as well as more complex deliberate operations to enhance and maintain security and almost weekly there are more Afghan policemen and soldiers leaving training to further reinforce the positive security in the South of Helmand Province. As a result of this increased security the company have been busy supporting the ANSF to take the lead for security across our area. This has encompassed mentoring their headquarters in intelligence gathering and patrol programming as well as the more visible process of handing over ISAF checkpoints to ANSF lead.
In the space of three weeks we have successfully transferred Check-point Takhta to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP), Check-point Shamal Storrai to the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) and closed a smaller outstation, Check-point Diliwar. The checkpoint transfers involved the platoons painstakingly accounting for all of their equipment and packing it for movement, gradually waving goodbye to the niceties and comforts of life until they were left with simple 24hr rations and ponchos. As the night-time temperature has begun to reach freezing these Spartan conditions have been testing for all concerned.
As well as packing away their own equipment the men have needed to collapse some of the razor wire fences used to mark helicopter landing sites and other features. These wire parties have seen everyone from the OC and Company Sergeant-Major down grappling with hundreds of metres of sharp, barbed fencing which wants only to impale fingers or tear combat trousers if given the opportunity. The closure of CP Shamal Storrai had the added ‘joy’ of extracting large amounts of this wire through cold, water-filled irrigation ditches which was great fun for all involved.
Jumpers had to be checked
When the checkpoints were ready for transfer the ANCOP or AUP moved in alongside the C Company soldiers for several days to allow relationships with local leaders and elders to be handed over and to provide time for joint patrols to be conducted prior to hand-over. The days of living alongside the ANSF have been some of the best for many of the soldiers as they have been able to see the human side of our ANSF partners, many of whom are more worldly-wise than the Helmandi farmers that live across our area of operations. Having the time to sit down and drink tea with the ANCOP, play football or volleyball with them and share a simple meal does a lot to humanise the ANSF for the soldiers, which can only be a good thing.
Two areas where the soldiers have no problem interacting with the ANSF is the sharing of cigarette supplies (about $1 a packet locally) and shared fawning over cute little puppies… although contact with all non-ISAF animals is, of course,banned over here due to the rabies threat. When the AUP moved into CP Shamal Storrai they brought with them a young puppy as well as a collection of song birds and canaries. The puppy very quickly became a source of distraction during the closure procedures for the checkpoint and jumpers had to be checked as the soldiers left to ensure no illegal canine smuggling was occurring!
Work alongside the Danish Army
Whilst most of the company have been focussed on transfer in the South of Nad-e-Ali Sgt Turagvou’s men have been busy reinforcing A Coy 1PWRR as they have been conducting security operations further to our North. The boys have performed very well during a number of contacts with the enemy and have developed a greater confidence in themselves and their abilities as a result. The skills and experience they have gained will be of great use in the coming weeks as the company prepares to leave Nad-e-Ali to conduct a quick rehabilitation and then move North to support operations in the Nahr-e-Seraj North area. This will really break up the tour into two halves for the company and refocus minds on our work as we adapt to new locations, people and terrain. We should also have the opportunity to work alongside the Danish Army for a period, which will be a real and noteworthy privilege for us as Queen Margrethe of Denmark is the Colonel in Chief of our Regiment.
Hats for Heroes!
Christmas is creeping up on us as we prepare for the move – we cannot guarantee where we shall be for Christmas Day itself but needless to say we shall be thinking of all of our friends and families and the queues for the welfare phones will be long throughout the day. At least as we wait in the cold for the satellite signal to cut in we will have warm heads courtesy of the many woolly ‘Hats for Heroes’ that have made their way to theatre. We have hats in every colour of the rainbow being sported across the camp as dusk falls; a brown woolly hat making Pte Robertson-Sinclair look like Klinger from Mash, a baggy affair making Pte Edwards look like a Rastafarian and a Blue-Yellow-Blue woolly hat allowing Lt Grant Reynolds to remain Regimental through and through, even when shivering in camp!
Hopefully there will be time for another update from C Company before 25th December, but if not let me wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from all of us here in Afghanistan.
OC C Company