Major Mark Suddaby, a company commander with the 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland writes about leaving the Afghan National Army behind.
This will be my last blog. My Advisor Team leaves in a week, replaced by another Kandak Advisor Team from the Irish Guards. The weather has cooled now and Ramadan – a month of fasting and religious reflection – has come to an end. So, we are on our last stumbling steps to the finish line. Our last chance to have a positive effect on our ANA counterparts and security in Nad-e’Ali.
August was dominated by one thing, Operation TOR SHEZADA (Operation BLACK PRINCE); the seizing and holding of Saidabad, a small village in the most southern part of Nad-e’Ali district and the last to come under Afghan Government control. The operation was two months in the planning and when the time came to step off, it was into the blistering heat and cloying dust that we went. It was a 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment operation, closely supported by 1st Kandak. This put my Advisor Teams right on the front line. But they are used to that. After a night helicopter insertion of two companies and the clearance of the main routes south by two more, the operation was completed ahead of schedule and declared an important success. The insurgents fled the area, leaving us to defuse IEDs and build our security outposts. But, inevitably they came back. So, the battle for Saidabad continues, with attacks against the outposts and the fight to keep the main supply routes open and free of IEDs. Long after the media have moved on to other things, the real battle to provide lasting security for this important population centre goes on. There are no decisive victories in a counter-insurgency campaign; just gradual change as one side wears the other into eventual submission. And brave members of the Afghan National Army, along with my Advisor Teams, are immersed in that ‘contested space’. They fight the conditions, the isolation and austerity of their living conditions, as much as the insurgents. But at least it is cooler now. So, Operation TOR SHEZADA continues, but at least we hold the ground now and at least we are setting the conditions for a brighter future for the people who live there. The priorities now are to reopen the school and clinic. After all, the people are the prize.
It has been six months since I arrived in Nad-e’Ali. Six months of frustrations, successes, setbacks and fatigue. During that time, I like to think that 1st Kandak have benefitted from the bravery and tenacity of the Advisor Teams that I lead. Teams that have gone out every day with their Afghan counterparts. Teams that have only been certain of the uncertainty that comes with that first step out of the gate. Teams that have battled their frustrations and setbacks to deliver my firm direction: to develop 1st Kandak into an independent and self-sufficient infantry battalion. Have the casualties and losses that we suffered been worth it? Is the Afghan National Army worth such a heavy price? I think so, yes. In fact, an emphatic yes. They must be. Because they are the future of this poor, war-ravaged country. A country that has been the battle ground of other nations for centuries. Because when we leave, they will stay and carry on the work of the countless battalions that have already come here and done their duty on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom.
I think it comes back to my first impressions of this strangely beautiful if oddly alien land: the children. If we are here to do anything, it is to secure their future. And when we leave, our legacy must be passed on so that they can have a life free of indiscriminate IEDs, laid by fundamentalists that have lost both their religion and their humanity. Did you know that during Eid they were giving children replica weapons and sending them to our bases, in the hope that they would accidentally get shot by us? What kind of twisted sense of righteousness can justify such an evil policy? If I ever doubted our endeavours in Afghanistan – what some would call meddling in the internal affairs of a sovereign state – I only have to think of those brightly clothed, wide-eyed children, endlessly asking for ‘choklat’ and ‘peens’, with that look of abject pleading that they do so well. Who is on their side? Which of the armed gangs of men actually care about them and through them the future of this place? Well, from where I sit – high in a Jackal armoured truck, driving around this green and fertile district – it looks like us. Armies don’t do peace brilliantly well, but when there is no one else, who else is left? ISAF may not be perfect, but it is holding the line until the ANA can step up to this complex and mutli-faceted task. I just hope that I have played my part in making these brave Afghan Warriors more able than they were, to take that task on.
Oh, and a local cat had five kittens under my camp cot. She has moved them now but we track them down, feed them with cat food sent from home, and ten man ration pack tins of tuna. They really are the cutest little things and serve as a counterpoint to our lives out here. I just hope that the Irish Guards like cats.
Thank you for your continued support. This is Advizer 10A, off to pack his kit and feed his kittens. Our thoughts remain with Lance Corporal Joe Pool’s family and friends – so tragically lost a few weeks ago.