Building a new checkpoint in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

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.

Cook-off

As Christmas comes and goes, we still have a job to do and we patrol as usual.  As R’n’R gets into full flow manpower lessens, so a simple job or patrol becomes harder, as there are less people to spread the weight around but as we get used to it, it becomes easier.

New year was quiet as the weather had closed in and patrols were minimised.  It was a night of rest and a quiz night for a bit of fun.  It was good for everyone and the only downside was a few bursts of firing from the local ANA checkpoint but nothing came of it.

As the new year comes and goes, an inter multiple cook-off was announced by Company Sergeant Major (CSM) Gidalla.  All 3 multiples are to cook on a Tuesday night with the CSM and the chefs judging, with the standard set by the multiple from 2 Rifles.  It’s a night we look forward to.

B Company at PB Jeker

B Company at PB Jeker

New checkpoint

With a new checkpoint being prepared and 2 Rifles training the ALP, the location for the checkpoint was granted by the locals but when we arrived to take over the compound, a family related to the ALP commander had moved in with the aim of making a home of it.  As they were evicted from their last location they were determined not to move.

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

B Company on patrol in Nahr-e-Saraj

A new location had to be found within the limits of the village which was found with help from the Afghan National Army.  Construction is due to start soon.  This will help secure the local facility and help the locals to police the village and the hope of securing an area known to be rife with insurgent activity.

B Company enjoys Christmas dinner

B Company enjoys Christmas dinner

A military band made a surprise visit.  It was a treat to hear some songs, some old, some new and it helped raise morale as the next few weeks are going to test everyone physically and mentally.

Strengthening relationships in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

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.

JEKER is a relatively new check-point and packed with the latest technology to help the patrols get on the ground with as much intelligence and knowledge as possible.  We also have BFBS [British Forces Broadcasting Service] TV and two internet computers and this gives us a good change to relax in the welfare tent that doubles up as a cookhouse.  The other two B Company check-points aren’t as lucky but they get up about once a week and check their mail and chill out.  With solar showers and toilets with a door (poo in a bag variety) this check-point is classed as a luxury here in the Green Zone. 

We are surrounded here by farms with deep irrigation ditches. These range from ones you can step over to ones that come up over chest height and you have to wade through.  The banks are often very steep and it’s impossible to get out without being dragged out by your mates on your stomach because it’s so slippery and muddy.

The locals are very happy that we are in the area and help us out by walking over the bridges to prove they are have not got IEDs or putting down logs for us to make a crossing.   This may be just to stop us walking in their crops but it strengthens our relationship with the locals and helps us with our patrols and shows who we can trust in the population. 

As a mixed platoon (half from 2 RIFLES and half from 1 PWRR) the way we do things is the same as if we were all from the same unit. We split patrolling and guards and duties so that when you come in off patrol you can do admin and make sure your kit is 100% in working order.  This is important for your body as well or it will start to go down and fatigue will set in and that leads to a harder time for all. 

It has been quite quiet here and the locals are still busy with the harvest.  But we must never let complacency set in.  That said, on a recent foot patrol to a local village and after a shura (meeting with village elders) we headed north, and in a village in the south 5 Platoon were moving away when they were fired upon.  The contact was short but there was a lot of fire power used.  We moved to support but 5 Platoon withdrew back to their check-point.

 Back in CP Jeker we checked ourselves over and no one was hurt in the fire-fight but the insurgents had slipped away. 

Dropped in by helicopter

With the winter closing in fast, it appears that the main fighting season is coming to an end.  Patrolling is becoming easier however selecting totally new routes to patrol is becoming more difficult as time goes on. 

A recent operation into a small village south of the River Helmand saw us patrolling into an area not previously visited by ISAF.  We had heard that the village was being used by insurgents as a bed-down location and as an area to store weapons and IEDs.  We were dropped into the village by helicopter which allowed us to move in quickly.  We entered the village with three ISAF multiples and three ANA multiples along with the OC’s group, with me being in Sgt Janes’ multiple.  There were a lot of soldiers on the ground which allowed us to quickly secure the outer compounds.  With the ANA searching, we moved through the main group of compounds very quickly. 

Once the ANA had completed their task, Sgt Janes moved us to a bridge crossing; however as soon as we moved we thought we saw an insurgent scout running away.  The ANA went in pursuit and soon caught the runner who was found to have IED components in his possession.  After talking to a local Elder about the detainee, it was decided to send the man to Camp Bastion for further questioning.  With all the moving parts working well, a lot of intelligence gained and one less insurgent to worry about, this operation was seen as a success.

As the tour has gone on, Cpl Watson, an attachment from 5 Rifles, has become very good at using the HiiDE (Biometric Enrolment) camera.  As such we are using this kit to good effect on most patrols.  In general the locals are happy to give up a few minutes of their time to be enrolled on to the system in order to help keep their community safe.

Happy with the progress in the Green Zone

Private Graham Thurston

Private Graham Thurston

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.

The wheat dilemma

As Eid approaches the locals are finishing harvesting the corn and preparing the fields for the wheat and poppy season.  You can tell what they are planning to grow by the way the soil is banked up in the fields; in rows for poppy and squares for wheat. Most people appear to be planning to grow poppy and are quite upfront about it when you talk to them.  We tell them (and they know) that growing poppy is now illegal in Afghanistan but they get a better price than wheat and are encouraged by the insurgents. It’s our job as a ground holding company and in everyone’s interests that we convince the farmers to change to wheat and that we can help them to secure the area from the insurgents.

B Company 1 PWRR

B Company 1 PWRR

As we settle in the locals are happy we are here and have helped us find IEDs and point out insurgents to the Afghan National Army who are very good in our location.  As Eid (an Afghan celebration like Christmas) started we received intelligence that the insurgents are going on the offensive, and they were but not in our Area of Operations.  Our AO has been quiet throughout the period of Eid.  This has allowed us to begin mounting deliberate operations and as time goes on we are getting a feeling for the way the locals do things and how they work. 

As a new Company in the area we have to do some modifications to the patrol base like winterising the accommodation and have asked the Royal Engineers to build a new Helicopter Landing Site (HLS) and front gate sangar.  The weather is getting steadily colder and once the rain starts things will get a bit grim.  The new sangar will overwatch the surrounding area and the new HLS.  The old HLS was in a blind spot and at risk from small arms. 

B Company in Nahr-e-Saraj South

B Company in Nahr-e-Saraj South

Caught in the act of laying an IED

As 5 Platoon, led by Captain Gardiner and Sergeant Gosling, went on a patrol the insurgents opened up.  The platoon managed to push them back from the local village and into an insurgent stronghold just over our boundary and overwatch them through the night. During the contact the platoon located a suspected IED.  The Counter-IED team couldn’t come out so 5 Platoon had to negotiate with a local farmer to take over his compound for the night. 

The following day the Counter-IED team was able to deploy and came down with Sergeant Major Gidalla but as they reached 5 Platoon insurgents were seen digging in another IED on the route they had just used and would need to use to get back out.  Luckily we were able to engage the insurgents from an Apache (Attack Helicopter).  It turned out that we had caught the local insurgent commander in the act of laying an IED.  The C-IED team ended up clearing three IEDs that day before all the troops could finally get back their check points for some hot scoff and a rest.

B Company 1 PWRR, Roads of Nahr-e-Saraj

B Company 1 PWRR, Roads of Nahr-e-Saraj

On the same day on the other side of our AO 4 Platoon went on a partnered patrol with the Afghan National Army (ANA).  They got intelligence of a known IED stash in a compound and we helped the ANA carry out C-IED team needed to be called out.  Sergeant Janes escorted the team down to our location and now the whole Company was on the ground.  The C-IED team carried out a controlled explosion on 6 x IEDs, 4 x pressure plates, 5 x battery packs and a mortar base plate.  This was a good stash to find and that could have made life in our AO really hard for us and the locals.

Strong relationship with the locals

After all that has happened in our AO the locals are even more welcoming and happy with the progress we have made in such a short time.   The fact that a school built by a UK charity in the local area will soon open will only do more to secure the hearts and minds of the locals.  The farmers are even more happy as the corn crop in is and the wheat and poppy seed is doing down.  They are using their local knowledge to help us on patrol by telling us what is going on in the area and if any strangers have been seen in the area.  This all points towards a strong relationship with the locals.

On Remembrance Sunday we went out on a reassurance patrol.  But like every other AO and base in Afghanistan and in the UK we remembered those fallen in battle and those who have lost the ones they love.  The OC went through a short service with us all at 11 am and then it was back to work patrolling and keeping the area safe.  We will remember them.