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.
We helped to open the Khorgajat School a few weeks ago and the attendance has boomed to over 140 children and four teachers – it is good to see it grow. As it’s winter and most of the farming is done, the children are happy to attend and their parents happy to let them go.
This is good in two ways; firstly is that the children are getting an education their parents never had and secondly, as the children are in classes it allows us to do our job without hindrance from the kids.
Having been given the go-ahead from the UK Government to set up an Afghan Local Police force in our area, a new checkpoint ‘Sola’ (peace in Pashtu) has been established plugging the space between two of our existing bases.
Setting up the checkpoint was our main effort and with everyone concentrating on it, it is growing quickly. As with everything in our area of operations, there are some locals who were not happy. But once we explained that the Afghan Local Police were going to be located there with us, they were happy to let us continue.
The Royal Engineers built walls and sangars and a local contractor installed two wells. All in all, a lot of hard work, but it is now largely complete with only small bits and pieces to be done. The build of Sola went really smoothly so we were not surprised when one of the Royal Engineers’ vehicles broke down, and not a small one – it was 26 tonnes of Self-Loading Dumper Truck.
A recovery vehicle from the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) was able to get the truck out of the checkpoint but unfortunately, it got stuck on a bend in a narrow track. With the lorry almost toppling over and the recovery vehicle also stuck, we had no choice but to set up a cordon overnight to protect the vehicle.
Twenty-seven hours and a further two recovery vehicles later we finally got the stricken truck back to Sola where it had started. Two days later, we tried again and with the REME making some running repairs, it finally left under its own steam and made it back to its base location where it could be fully fixed.
Getting the Afghan Local Police in was a huge amount of effort but is definitely worth it. They will hopefully be long-term protectors of the people once ISAF has left Afghanistan working with the Afghan Army and regular police.
Pleased to see us
Our area of operations is bordered to the South by the River Helmand and the area there is not currently patrolled regularly by ISAF or Afghan security forces. In early December last year we mounted a dawn raid by helicopter in partnership with the Afghan Army and two insurgents were detained with radios, ammunition, explosives and detonators. Our Afghan Army partners have been replaced by a different Kandak (Battalion) and we conducted a similar operation with them in an area further to the northeast of the river.
We lifted in the dark from our base at checkpoint Jeker with the Afghan Army in two Chinook helicopters and looking out the ramp at the back we could see the compounds spread out over a large area in the growing morning light. We landed in a cloud of dust and moved quickly to cordon positions around the suspect compounds and the ANA began their searches whilst we biometrically enrolled the residents. On this occasion, nothing was found and the locals seemed genuinely pleased to see us and pass the time of day and share chai with Maj Noott, the company commander.
We moved along the river repeating the process, but all that turned up was an ancient soviet rifle that had seen better days and hadn’t been fired in years. Finally, we moved off south into the dasht (desert) and were collected by the helicopters. Overall, the operation was a success. It proved we could operate with our new Afghan Army partners, enjoyed good interaction with the locals and learned about the area. Better still, we made it back to our base as CP Jeker in time for a hot lunch that we needed as it about the coldest day we have had yet.
River burst its banks
The weather here has been really cold but dry since December last year but that all ended with gale force winds and torrential rain on the 21 January. We had previously winterised the camp but that did not stop this level of wetness. Some of the tents flooded and the dust turned to mud. If it was not tied down, it blew away and as the rain fell, the gaps in the waterproofing became apparent. With the amount of water falling the local school flooded and the local river burst its banks. Our AO is mostly covered in water and the roads are treacherous. As this is the first rain of the year, we hope it is as bad as it gets. We now have to repair and improve the winterisation of the camp and hope its good enough before the next storm hits.