2SR Op Herrick 17 Tour with 246 Gurkha Signal Squadron

SSgt (FofS (IS)) Kay

SSgt (FofS (IS)) Kay

SSgt (FofS (IS)) Kay, a member of 2 Signal Regiment (2SR) and will be working in the Ops team of 246 Gurkha Signal Squadron, based in Camp Bastion for a six month tour on Operation HERRICK 17. He previously deployed in 2010/2011 with 16 Air Assault Brigade and was based in Lash Gakhar. The main tasks on Operation HERRICK 17 concentrate on working as part of a small  Operations team ensuring that Fixed Trunk Communications throughout Helmand are sustained in order to enable the Brigade to concentrate on their main tasks at hand in defeating the enemy.

2 Signal Regiment go on tour

I was posted to 2 Signal Regiment to go on tour, and while this is my job and I am happy to do it, I am apprehensive about leaving my wife and children yet again to face yet another Operational challenge. The build up phase to the tour has been encapsulated by STA (Specific Training to Arm) courses which I have had to attend in order to prepare me for the task at hand. These STA courses have been entwined with mandatory courses such as MATTs (Military Annual Training Tests) and have included developed Infantry range work, all of which has ensured the last 7 months have sped by at a frenetic pace. At least I have had the occasional opportunity to pass an amorous glance at my wife between returning from one course and departing for the next. Annual leave has not been disregarded and the Commanding Officer has ensured that all his soldiers utilise their maximum individual leave allowance to ensure family life is as stable as it can be prior to deployment.

A personal note

Approximately 6 weeks or so before the unit deployed, the Squadron were concentrating on fine tuning the soldiers training, ensuring all deploying personnel are medically vaccinated and all final mandatory briefs have been attended to ensure everyone is prepared for the task at hand. On a personal note, it has recently been confirmed there is a good chance that I could be granted my 2 week R & R period (rest and recuperation) to fall over Valentine’s Day which has put a smile on my face, but maybe not the wife’s!

Emotional thoughts

Thoughts of Christmas and Family

Thoughts of Christmas and Family

The recent start of the new school year has been a welcome distraction for my children, from both the deployment, and the heartache this brings. I’m sure, however, it won’t stop them being mischievous for my wife whilst I am away from home. Being away from my family at Christmas is an emotional thought, but all the latest technologies the Army have embraced allow us to speak to our families at this special time. The tour will also enable me to reduce my financial burden, as I now have an excuse not to buy my parents gifts at Christmas! (Hope they don’t read this blog, if they do, only joking mum and dad!)

Accepting families and friends

Prince Harry Deploys

Prince Harry Deploys

The deployment of Prince Harry to Bastion has raised the profile of Afghanistan recently, which brings more media focus to television, public newspapers and radio enabling families and friends a greater ability to try and understand the conditions facing all deployed soldiers. My children have expressed a desire for me to obtain an autograph from the Prince as a gift on my return. If I cross paths with him in Camp Bastion I may swallow my pride to ask him. Or then again maybe not; the goading I will receive will be too much to take. I now look to the deployment date to commence the countdown to an eventual return back to the United Kingdom in May 2013.

 

Op Ed from Lt Col Charlie Maconochie, Commanding Officer 3 Rifles

Lt Col Maconochie 3 Rifles, Commanding Officer of th British Advisory Group for the Afghan National Army, 3215 ANA Corps

Lt Col Maconochie 3 Rifles, Commanding Officer of th British Advisory Group for the Afghan National Army, 3215 ANA Corps

I am the Commanding Officer of 3rd Battalion the Rifles and since April this year we have been deployed in Afghanistan as the Brigade Advisory Group (BAG), where we are responsible for advising the 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, of the Afghan National Army (ANA).  Our role puts us at the very forefront of security transition, as we maintain and encourage both the operational tempo and institutional development of the Afghan Army across Central Helmand. Since our arrival we have supported the ANA in conducting large scale operations bringing security to new areas, whilst also thwarting the insurgent effort in gaining a foothold through the spring. The Battalion’s last tour to Sangin District in 2009-10 saw large numbers of casualties being taken in daily fighting. The difference now is palpable. Significant progress has been made.  The Afghans are now very much in the lead as we move towards security transition. The security situation unsurprisingly varies across Central Helmand with some areas transitioned and relatively peaceful and in others there are still varying degrees of counter-insurgency operations being undertaken. The latter is to be expected and will continue to reduce further over time.

Arriving in theatre

The Afghan National Army prepare for the Operation

The Afghan National Army prepare for the Operation

We were immediately hit with the high tempo of ANA operations. Within 3 weeks we were advising 600 Afghan Warriors, working alongside 200 Afghan Police as we supported the 3rd Brigade clearance of the Nad-e-Ali Bowri Dashte (Dari meaning Desert) on Operation Shafuq (Dari meaning Dawn). It was an unmistakable demonstration of intent. Those of us who harboured certain  preconceptions from previous deployments about the ability of  the Afghan Army and Police soon realised that their capabilities had vastly improved. We are no longer in the driving seat with the Afghan forces as a passenger; quite the opposite, as they are now wholly in the driving seat, with us in a supporting capacity. To quote the Commander of 3rdBrigade, Brigadier General Shirin Shah, when talking to me about the logistical plan, “Charlie, do not worry about our resupply, just take care of your own” – how true it turned out to be. The ANA now have their own bomb disposal teams and route clearance platoons. These two assets, coupled with their local knowledge, cultural understanding and ground sign awareness meant they could resupply their Warriors with consummate ease throughout; this was a sure sign of progress.

Moving the fight deep into the insurgents’ safe havens

The men and women of the Brigade Advisory Group moved out of Patrol Base Pimon for the start of Operation SHAFUQ.  Operation SHAFUQ (meaning dawn in Pashto/Dari) is the Afghan Armys first major mission of this spring and the essential foundations in suppressing any insurgent attempt at mounting an offensive over the summer

The men and women of the Brigade Advisory Group moved out of Patrol Base Pimon for the start of Operation SHAFUQ. Operation SHAFUQ (meaning dawn in Pashto/Dari) is the Afghan Armys first major mission of this spring and the essential foundations in suppressing any insurgent attempt at mounting an offensive over the summer

Each year the spring has traditionally seen an insurgent ‘demonstration’ of power in the area. This year, however, the ANA took the initiative, moving the fight deep into the insurgents’ safe havens, successfully disrupting their resupply network, cutting off previously accessible areas and denying the insurgents lethal aid. Once again this seemed to show the development in ANA operational capability from Brigade down to the Company level. Most Shuras with locals are now led by Afghan forces with ISAF staying in the shadows throughout. This is an essential part of the information campaign, getting the locals to believe in the Afghan forces as a credible force that can bring stability, security and governance to their areas.

Operation Atash

More recently the Afghan forces planned and executed their most dangerous operation yet in the Upper Gereshk Valley called Operation Atash (Dari meaning Fire). The end result of the operation was outstanding. 3rd Brigade searched over 200 compounds and found a total of 31 Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s) which they either destroyed or neutralised. Two caches of weapons and narcotics were seized and a total of 13 individuals were detained, 5 of whom were taken away for further questioning. Not bad for 3 days work whilst operating under sporadic small arms fire from the insurgents. It was the most challenging area that the Afghan security forces have operated in. It showed an increase in ANA capability and confidence, an excellent understanding of the use of ground and considerable resilience in the face of an extremely high IED threat.

Institutional development

A British Officer mentors his Afghan counterpart

A British Officer mentors his Afghan counterpart

The low level tactics and logistics are proven, however the links to higher headquarters from Brigade to Corps and higher must be improved. The Afghan forces have done an exceptional job generating the Army, now the focus must be on sustaining the force. Two areas in particular need of attention include improving their equipment and spares supply and taking control of their own infrastructure and its maintenance; especially pertinent as we redeploy our forces.  We maintain the access to specialist capabilities, such as casualty evacuation, however there is now a real focus on training their own forces to provide their own integral life saving skills. They are rapidly realising the areas of concern and are working hard to develop them. We will continue to take a more hands off approach, in a graduated fashion, as we approach the cessation of combat operations in 2014. 

The story so far is one of great success. We have laid the foundations and now plan to build on their confidence and specialist capabilities. There are future hurdles to overcome, yet we remain steadfast in the 12th Mechanized Brigade motto for our deployment – With the ANSF – For the people – Against the Insurgent.

Culinary delights and Warthogs

Cpl Georgina Coupe

Cpl Georgina Coupe

Corporal Georgina Coupe is the video camerawoman for the British Army’s Combat Camera Team (CCT) based in Afghanistan throughout summer 2012 as part of 12th Mechanized Brigade

Since we left Bastion just over week ago the CCT have covered a lot of miles both in vehicle and by foot.

We flew into Main Operating Base Price in good time for us to sample the culinary delights of “MOB Nice” as it’s commonly known and also to meet up with the Warthog Group formed by The Kings Royal Hussars. It was an eventful few days spent in some sweltering temperatures in the back of the heavily armoured tracked vehicles whose task, whilst we were there, was to provide a security screen for the largest Afghan operation of the year so far.

Variety adds spice

On the first evening I had a chance to put my night vision capabilities through its paces with the 26 Engineer Regiment whilst they reinforced a steel girder bridge in anticipation of the heavy access that would be required over the coming days.

The Afghan ground troops were inserted by helicopter in the early hours of the following morning and began clearing the heavily contested area. Because the area was heavily seeded with Improvised Explosive Devices (IED)s it was a slow and deliberate process.

During our time spent with the Warthogs we saw the impressive manoeuvrability of the vehicles, and saw firsthand their ability to cover a variety of terrain, with the help of the Engineers bridging the gaps over canals and wadis.

Warthog Crossing

Warthog Crossing

I think the most memorable part that will stay with me was filming with Andy out of the top hatch as we crossed through the Helmand River. A few minutes later we were filming the Warthogs mid- recovery of a vehicle from along its banks when they came under fire. Although the contact was fairly short lived and no one was injured, the recovery and the subsequent maintenance took the guys’ hours of physical and mental work, but the sense of humour and camaraderie never failed them.

The Green Zone

After leaving them we have spent the rest of the time between Patrol Bases Rahim and Clifton, both in the Upper Gereshk Valley, in the Green Zone.

During this period we spent some time out with the Grenadier Guards and the Afghan Local Police. Due to a dose of luck and good timing we also happened to be there at the same time as the 12 Mechanized Brigade Commander Brigadier Doug Chalmers, so we were able to move out on a foot patrol with him along with various heads of the Afghan security forces.

Turning up the heat

Patrol Base (PB) Clifton has been a really nice place to spend time at. Although facilities would be deemed as basic back home, out here it’s a well set up with a really good atmosphere. Andy and I got stuck into documenting life at Clifton pretty much straight away, with my first stop being the kitchen, eating being one of my favourite pastimes. Rob and Martin, the chefs here, serve up some pretty impressive meals with a lovely roast dinner one day, and cake and steak, another. Depending on the deliveries, they serve a mix of fresh and frozen food, and also a mix of composite rations. The temperatures that they have to work in far exceed the ones outside, hitting the 70s for them on a regular basis. The kitchen and the food is an important source of morale for everyone at Clifton, and there is always lots of banter and laughter going on in the cookhouse.

Chef turns up the heat

Chef turns up the heat

'Dhobi' - Washing Machine

‘Dhobi’ – Washing Machine

The washing facilities (known as ‘dhobi’) consisted of a washing machine cunningly disguised as a cement mixer and a welfare room which had a ping pong table, internet access and a TV and DVD player, and a makeshift outdoor gym.

Just in case people back home think that the guys and girls out here have got it easy though, you only have to watch the patrols coming back in, with some of them going out 2 or three times a day, and some for two or three days at a time. You can hear the gunfire and explosions going off in the surrounding areas, so it’s never too far from anyone’s mind here that we’re still in Afghanistan. Culinary delights and Warthogs – Cpl Coupe Blogg – British Army

School Curriculum

Captain Harriet Church, a Veterinary liaison Officer for the Provincial Reconstruction Team happened to be here whilst I was at PB Clifton, so I jumped at the opportunity to get out with her and her Afghan counterpart, a civilian who is known as a ‘Paravet’. Their role is to move around Helmand Province setting up short lessons for the local communities teaching them basic farming hygiene and feeding skills.

Watch Video here

Because many of the children here are the primary carers for the herds of cattle Capt Church is in the process of trying to implement this into the local curriculum, following the success of a similar process for IED awareness for the youngsters.

Being out in the Kalays (villages) with all the children is always quite uplifting but it also makes me think about my nephews as well and how glad I am that they are lucky enough to be able to go to school, and not have to have lessons on how to recognise pressure plates and bombs. It definitely makes you appreciate what you would take for granted back home.

Whilst you’re out here living in such close quarters to others, the heat and the physical exertion can take its toll. Some days you would just like a day off and it can be hard to muster enthusiasm for work, but then you come across stories like this and you see how little things like this can make such a massive difference to the next generations of Afghanistan, and it re-inspires and motivates you.

A real mix of experience

We have only got a few more weeks here until our R and R (Rest and Recuperation) which we are all looking forward to. Before then we are in the process of trying to plan and fit in several jobs ahead of our R and R, including;  Afghans training their Heavy Weapons, Counter IED Training as well as some electrical and driver training. I think it’s going to be a real mix of stuff going on and will certainly keep us busy before we get a chance for some much needed down time.

Pressure, partnership and progress

Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE

Lt Gen Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE

Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw CB OBE is Deputy Commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan. In the first of an occasional series of blogs, he reflects on recent visits to Helmand and Eastern Afghanistan and the gains made by ISAF over the last year.

Last week I was on patrol with British Servicemen in Helmand and, as ever, I was deeply impressed by their courage and dedication. With remarkable coolness, they remarked that the area in which we were patrolling is subject to improvised explosive device (IED) emplacement by the Taliban. The servicemen showed me where an insurgent had blown himself up trying to lay a bomb in the track just a few days before. My guides were wary of the risk, of course, and proceeded with understandable caution – but they were also confident in their drills, their equipment and their ability to stay ahead of the threat.

Most importantly, they know they are putting relentless pressure on the insurgents. They stand shoulder to shoulder with their Afghan comrades, who are stepping more and more into the lead. The strength of our relationships was very evident during my patrol in Eastern Afghanistan last week to visit US-mentored Afghan Local Police (ALP).

Friendship and mutual trust

Here the ALP block enemy routes from Pakistan, and are frequently attacked by insurgents who resent the restriction on their freedom of movement. As the ALP pointed out to me, they always see off the insurgents. The friendship and mutual trust between ALP village guardians and their US advisors, built through standing together against shared dangers, was obvious and intense.

In the last year, ISAF have made significant gains. Although by no means defeated, the Taliban are under real pressure. Their attacks are down 11% on last year, and in Helmand, where most of the British Forces are, security has expanded into areas which were formerly safe havens for insurgents. Soldiers who were here a couple of years ago say that places which used to be incredibly violent and dangerous are unrecognisably better now.

Despite two recent attacks in Kabul, the first for nearly six months, the life of the capital and the work of government are going on more smoothly than in many a city. The failure of several hundred attempts to attack Kabul over recent months is testament to the efficiency of the Afghan Intelligence Service and security forces in and around the city.

Trust and understanding

Trust and understanding

Significant impact

There is much left to do, but we now have more and more reason to believe that the third-of-a-million-strong Afghan National Security Forces really can take the job on – and what’s more, they believe it too. The efforts of British troops in Helmand and our allies elsewhere have had a significant impact. We should be proud of what they have achieved and what they continue to achieve on a daily basis.