Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Female bandmaster swaps music for mentoring in Kabul

Bandmaster in Afghanistan

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn, Bandmaster from the Corps of Army Music

Part 2

Warrant Officer Class One Esther Freeborn is a Bandmaster in the Corps of Army Music. She has performed music at venues around the world and in front of Royalty on many occasions. She is now assigned to work with the Afghan National Army at their Officers’ Academy in Kabul.

International World Women’s Day at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Two months in – five to go

Well, I am in my second month at Camp Qargha and everything is going well. My fears of coping in this small vicinity and with a small amount of comforts have been allayed. We are very lucky to be able to receive post from friends and family, and from internet companies that will deliver to a British Forces Post Office. Receiving post generates enormous morale for everyone here, whether you have received a letter from a loved one, or a box full of toiletries from your mum. It’s amazing how grateful you can be for a nice bottle of shower gel!

Women’s Day

At the beginning of March, I was very honoured to represent our site at the Afghan National Army celebrations for International Women’s Day. It was amazing to see how many women were involved in the Afghan Armed Forces, including the first Afghan female pilot. The Afghans are obviously very passionate about Women’s rights and quite insistent on developing roles for women in all services.

Generating lesson plans in multiple dialects

I have many responsibilities here at Qargha, but mainly deal with the production and development of lessons for the Afghan National Army Officer Academy. As you can imagine the lessons for its 42-week course consist of anything from Foot Drill to Afghan Military Tactics. The British Army and partner nation forces mentors immerse themselves in the Afghan doctrine (policy) and write the lessons. Obviously, the lessons are written in English, and, although the Officer Cadets learn English as part of their course, all lessons have to be translated. The Afghanistan population speaks many different dialects, often depending on what part of the country they are from. Dari and Pashto are the two most spoken dialects, but the Academy has chosen for all lessons to be in Dari. Although I cannot speak Dari (apart from ‘hello’ and ‘how are you’), I find that I can recognize certain words and I have even learnt how to write ‘hello’ – سلام.

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Command tasks at the Afghan National Army Officer Academy

Small location could drive you mad

It is amazing how many different people you meet whilst on operations, in a camp that is only the size of a few football pitches. As I mentioned previously, there are partner nations here, such as Australian, New Zealand, Norwegian, Danish and American who perform many different roles.

I have to say, my favourite section is the dog section. I have a Springer Spaniel called Tyler and I miss him very much; fortunately I am able to visit the dog compound and give all the dogs a fuss.

esther3

Kenzie the Springer Spaniel who used to visit me. He has now gone back to Camp Bastion

I think the most interesting part of the job is being able to talk to the Afghans, both military and civilian, learn about their families, what type of house they have, and even the type of cars they drive (usually a Toyota!) It is only unfortunate that we are unable to explore the surrounding areas a bit more, and see life on the streets of Kabul for ourselves. Nevertheless, I am content with my surroundings and the beautiful view of the Kabul mountains as the snow slowly melts in the gradually warming spring weather. The job is not too bad either!

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Find out more about the Corps of Army Music

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.