Major Simon Doyle MBE is the Officer Commanding of C Company of the 1st Battalion the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) known as the ‘Tigers’. Major Doyle has responsibility for the PB Line Area of operations as a part of Combined Force nahr-e Saraj (North).
Biggest RE bridge building project since Korean War
Since the company celebrated Christmas in the relatively luxurious surroundings of Main Operating Base (MOB) PRICE we have covered a lot of ground leading up to taking over responsibility for a line of patrol bases east of Gereshk following a hand over with a Danish Armoured Infantry Company. As the Christmas carols were dying in the air 2Lt Ian Thornton and 9 Platoon moved to CP MALVERN (East) a small, very austere checkpoint overlooking the Helmand River. Here they were tasked with providing security for a Royal Engineer team constructing a Medium Girder Bridge (MGB) over the Helmand River. This was to be the biggest Royal Engineer bridge building project since the Korean War in the 1950s and more importantly the finished bridge should greatly increase the freedom of movement for the local Afghan population. It will allow them to move their produce to the local markets and also have greater access to the goods and services offered by the Government of Afghanistan in Gereshk. Ian and his men quickly settled into routine in the small patrol base, patrolling the local area with partners from the Afghan National Army during the day and trying valiantly to keep warm during the sub-zero temperature nights!
The remainder of the company did not linger for long in MOB PRICE either; as 9 Platoon headed off on their task, Lt Grant Reynolds and his men remained in support of a Gurkha Company in PB KHAR NIKA, across the river from 9 Platoon. Moved to reinforce the area they quickly assimilated, enjoying Mutton curry for almost every meal and the quasi-colonial approach to Military life that is part and parcel of working with the Gurkhas – Grant particularly enjoying being called ‘Sahib’ by the Nepalese soldiers. Throughout the last month they have conducted numerous fighting patrols with the Gurkhas, including pushing the FLET or ‘Forward Line of Enemy Troops’ back several hundred metres by establishing a new Combat outpost that they quickly christened ‘The Alamo’.
Whilst 8 Platoon and 9 Platoon enjoyed relative independence from the Company HQ poor old 7 Platoon remained in close proximity under the careful gaze of the Company Sergeant Major as we prepared for a large scale ISAF and ANA undertaking, Operation Rozi Roshan, designed to enhance the physical security of the Deh Adam Khan (North) area of Gereshk. The operation launched in the early hours of 3rd January seeing the Company Group deploy out of MOB Price in a very large convoy of over 40 vehicles including Mastiffs, Jackal patrol vehicles and a troop of Danish Leopard 2 tanks.
Following a cold and dusty night spent in a desert leaguer we moved forward to establish blocking positions on the dominant ridgeline overlooking the Green Zone, preventing the insurgent forces from fleeing to the North and ensuring friendly forces clearing through the area had immediate fire support and psychological reassurance from the presence of so many armoured vehicles on the skyline. As the ANA and other ISAF forces slowly cleared through the valley below us we supported a team of ANA and Royal Engineers who constructed no fewer than seven permanent checkpoints on the high ground which now provide enduring security for the people of Deh Adam Khan (North). Some of the checkpoints were constructed in the shadow of what the locals call ‘The Red Fort’ an immense mud and earth wall forming a semi-circular ring of defences on the high ground.
During our 10 day period living in the shadow of this wall we heard many stories explaining its origin; some locals believed it was a British Fort from the 19th Century, others thought it dated from the reign of Ghengis Khan and his followers whilst many of us amateur historians in the company like to believe it was from the period of Alexander the Great, some 2500 years back in history – a remnant of a past age like the ragged temples seen in the classic film ‘The Man who Would be King’! At the end of the operation we were sorry to say goodbye to our surroundings, but not sorry to move somewhere with heating – the nights camped out under the stars securing the engineers had been particularly cold and we were all in real need of a shower when we arrived at Patrol Base Clifton which was to become our home for the final months of the tour.
The end of the operation signalled the start of our handover period with Danish Charlie Company who had been holding the PB Line area of operations for the previous five-and-a-half months. The Danish staff showed great patience taking the platoons on familiarisation patrols around the PB Line area, teaching us the various vulnerable points and areas where they would expect IEDs to be emplaced, and talking about the many patrols and operations they had conducted during which they had made contact with insurgent forces. At the end of a week long handover period it was with a mixture of excitement and trepidation that we took over authority for the area and waved goodbye to the Danish company as they drove out of the PB into the desert headed for the long anticipated flight that would take them home to their loved ones inDenmark.
Continuing to apply pressure onto the insurgents operating in our area, we planned and conducted a number of routine patrols through the area with our two partner Afghan Tolays (equivalent of a British company of 100 men) as well as deliberate operations to directly engage the insurgents in their perceived safe areas, using Attack Helicopters to provide us with superior fire support. Every member of the company has been well aware of the threat posed by these operations, the list of Danish causalities bore testimony to the concentration of IEDs in the area and the willingness of the insurgents to engage us at short range with AK47s and other weapons. Regardless of the threat the soldiers and officers of the company deployed on these operations with confidence in themselves and the men serving left and right of them – the same confidence that has enabled our forebears to advance into combat on countless battlefields. The sense of pride I felt every time the company deployed on the ground cannot be underestimated; you cannot fail but be proud and humbled by the strength of character displayed by eighteen year old soldiers as they face up to real dangers in Afghanistan.
During one of these patrols, on 31 Jan, the company were manoeuvring towards a village believed to contain a number of insurgent fighters. As one of our Section Commanders moved his forces into position to provide fire support to his platoon commander he unfortunately set off an IED which inflicted serious injuries to his legs. As the echo of the explosion rang through the air Pte Jones, a TA soldier of 3 PWRR serving with the company, and LCpl Samways rushed to provide first aid support. Following one cry of pain, the soldier was sitting up at the point of the explosion giving encouragement to the men coming to help him. Just as the company had rehearsed for the last 12 months Pte Jones applied tourniquets to his wounds whilst LCpl Samways coordinated a quick and efficient evacuation of the casualty to the Company Sergeant Major’s position from where he was swiftly picked up by a medical evacuation helicopter crewed by US Special Forces Personnel.
The medical treatment given by the soldiers on the ground undoubtedly saved his life and is testament to the huge advances in training and equipment that have occurred during the course of the British Army’s involvement in the Afghan campaign. He is now recuperating in the UK having received first-class medical care in the Royal Defence Centre for Medicine in Birmingham. It is testament to his strong character, determination and the support of his family that he was released from hospital and commenced his rehab treatment in Headley Court just over a month after receiving his injuries. As the company push into the last month of the operational tour all of our thoughts and best wishes remain with him and his family and we all look forward to enjoying a cool beer with him on our return to Germany.
Major Simon Doyle
OC C Coy (1PWRR)