Friday, August 20, 2010

Helmand Blog has moved!

Helmand Blog - Afghanistan has moved to a new location!

The new look Helmand Blog has now officially replaced this site. All the posts on here have been migrated and, as always, new posts are going up daily.

The reason for this is our rebranding to UKForcesAfghanistan, in line with our YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Audioboo accounts.

Thank you very much for your support and we look forward to seeing you in our new home at

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

British and Afghan troops keep Helmand highway open

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion Scots Guards (1 SG) and The Royal Dragoon Guards (RDG) have been working jointly with Afghan National Security Forces to keep traffic moving along a key road in central Helmand.

The key access road Route 601 is an important communications route that connects Lashkar Gah in Helmand with the city of Kandahar to the east. The metalled road is a key transport and commercial link for both local nationals and ISAF and Afghan forces.

A snap vehicle check point manned by members of the Scots guards and the Royal Dragoon Guards on route 601.

Based in a patrol base (PB) halfway along the road the British soldiers regularly patrol both on foot and in Mastiff and Jackal armoured vehicles to ensure that no improvised explosive devices or blockages are present on the road or in the surrounding area.

Daily checks include inspecting culverts along the route, setting up vehicle checkpoints to ensure that insurgents are not using the road as a supply route, and working with the Afghan National Police (ANP) to deal with breakdowns or the occasional road traffic accident.

A soldier keeping watch on route 601 with his General Purpose Machine Gun.

The PB commander, Captain Neil Gow, 1 SG, explained:

“We do two things – foot patrols are for the immediate security of the vicinity of where we are around the PB and for the local population.

“It also allows us to build up as much information as we can from the ground about what is going on… When we first moved here we had a lot of information about where the problems were, where the hot spots were.

“By going out on the ground firstly you can see what is going on, and secondly it gives you a chance to see if things are improving, or if things have changed for the better.

“We also do deliberate patrols up the road where we take our wagons, do culvert checks and speak to the ANP who are at different checkpoints along the road.

“By being here and having to do administration runs and just being around the area makes a difference… it acts as a deterrent.”

To read the full article, click here

To hear interviews with soldiers from 1st Battalion The Scots Guards then why not subscribe to the new UKForcesAfghanistan podcast at

Photos: Cpl Barry Lloyd RLC/MOD 2010

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David Cameron Comments on Afghanistan

By Tom Newton Dunn, Political Editor, The Sun

DAVID Cameron today reveals he is on a lightning mission to reform Britain – while his Coalition is still riding the crest of its popularity. The PM – in an exclusive interview with The Sun to mark a hundred days at No10 – declares he wants to sort out the country quicker than Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair did. He candidly admits the honeymoon period will end as tough decisions are made. But he vowed not to shy away from doing what is needed – and FAST.

He also told of the greatest burden for a modern British PM – “getting Afghanistan right”.

Mr Cameron told how the war against the Taliban – and the sacrifices of our brave troops – preyed on his mind.

He said: “Afghanistan is what keeps me up at night – making sure that we succeed.

“Obviously the most difficult and the biggest responsibility is the fact that we have troops in Afghanistan risking their lives on a daily basis.

“Tragically we have lost quite a number since I have become Prime Minister.

“All the time I am asking, ‘Are we doing the right thing, are we protecting our forces in the right way, have they got the right equipment, are we helping their families?’

“That is a really huge weight and a burden that you have got to discharge in the right way.” He admitted that being Prime Minister was a job he found “very daunting”.

But it was also “incredibly fulfilling and challenging”.

To read the full article click HERE

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Jersey reservists swap island life for Helmand

Two Territorial Army volunteers from Jersey Field Squadron have swapped civilian life on the channel island for the heat and dust of Helmand province, and are now working with the regular Army unit 21 Engineer Regiment.

As Royal Engineers, the soldiers are involved in a variety of tasks, such as building and improving forward operating bases and patrol bases, which includes constructing watchtowers, known as ‘sangars’, for security.

They support the infantry out on patrols by engineering ways to move safely through compounds, whether it is through walls or over them, and also by building bridges to create new routes.

All of these tasks ultimately support the main aim which is to provide stability and security for the local nationals.

21 Engineer Regiment are also working alongside the Provincial Reconstruction Team and Military Stabilisation Support Team to provide longer term assets for the country. This has involved building main roads, creating and repairing culverts and building bridges in order to allow the Afghan nationals to move around their country more quickly and safely.

One of the Jersey-based soldiers is Sapper James Shales, based with 1 Armoured Engineer Squadron.

Sapper James Shales on operations in Afghanistan with 1 Armoured Engineer Squadron
Photo: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

In 2 Troop, Sapper Shales has been based in Nad ‘Ali, a district in southern Helmand which was the main focal point for Operations PANTHER’S CLAW and MOSHTARAK. Nad ‘Ali has been one of the success stories in terms of engagement with the local nationals through the District Governor.

Meanwhile, Captain Leanne Christmas, who is based out of Camp Bastion in Helmand province, is working as the Regimental Media Operations Officer and a Joint Forces Media Officer, which means that she goes where needed to in order to cover a story with her trusty camera.

Captain Leanne Christmas meeting Afghan children during an operation designed to improve engagement with the local population
Photo: Sergeant Ian Forsyth RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Primarily covering the engineers, Captain Christmas also looks after external press and VIPs. In civvy street, Captain Christmas is a chartered accountant for Barclays.

Despite enjoying their experiences on deployment both Sapper Shales and Captain Christmas are looking forward to returning to their civilian lives in Jersey:

“I am really looking forward to a pint, and going out with my friends too,” said Sapper Shales.

While for Captain Christmas it is the natural environment of her homeland that she misses most:

“I am really looking forward to getting home now for a rest and to walk barefoot on the grass and beaches again,” she said, adding: “I long for rain!”

To read the full story click here

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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

From war zone to boomtown for Helmand capital

BBC News South Asia Website

Lashkar Gah, the capital of Afghanistan's Helmand province, was a war zone when the BBC's Bilal Sarwary visited four years ago. Upon his return he discovers it completely transformed.

In 2006, Lashkar Gah resembled a ghost town. Deserted streets littered with shell casings, ruins in the name of buildings and dust-filled roads lined with burnt vehicles. The silence was occasionally broken by bursts of artillery and gun fire. There was the feel of death all around.

Well-connected by air and road with Kabul, Lashkar Gah's economy is thriving

Daily flights

But that was then.

Lashkar Gah today is teeming with life.

Fast-rising buildings, markets filled with shoppers and restaurants blaring loud music.

It seems the city wants to make up for lost time.

Its mud trails which once passed for roads have been replaced by two-lane asphalt streets. And instead of armoured vehicles, there are cars.

In fact, the number of motor vehicles has grown so much in the past few years that wardens have been deployed on all main intersections to ensure smooth traffic movement.

Although small, the city now has a proper airport - built by the United State's development agency USAID.

There are now daily flights connecting Lashkar Gah with the capital Kabul.

Earlier, there was only an air strip that was open only for Western forces and aid agencies.

Lashkar Gah city has grown rapidly as more people are attracted from less stable areas

Peace dividend

Residents, traders, Afghan government officials and others had to use the Lashkar Gah-Kabul road, which runs through the Taliban strongholds of Kandahar, Zabul, Ghazni and Wardak.

The people now have the option to fly to Kabul.

But what has brought about this change?

The answer is peace, established by the Afghan National Army with the help of Western forces, particularly the British Provincial Reconstruction Teams (PRTs).

The PRTs are military and civilian groups which have played a key role in Nato's mission to stabilise Afghanistan.

Lashkar Gah city has grown rapidly as more people are attracted from less stable areas

For the transformation of the city, residents also credit provincial Governor Gulab Mangal, who has a reputation for probity and competent administration.

"Security is good in Lashkar Gah. Peace has helped business," says fruit-seller Haji Mohammad Khan.

"Also, heavy fighting in other districts of Helmand has forced people to flee to the safety of Lashkar Gah. The arrival of these people is providing the city a steady stream of cheap labour," he says.

Mohammad Pasoon, who runs the Bost radio station in Lashkar Gah, agrees.

''A year ago, people were afraid to step out of their homes. They wouldn't dare to even go to the park. There was nothing in the name of security. The presence of Western forces has dispelled that fear."

Construction boom

Mr Pasoon's radio station is also a beneficiary of peace.

Until a few years ago, Bost was struggling to stay on air. There was no money to even meet the daily expenses. But now there is a long queue of advertisers.

''Shopkeepers, construction companies, non-governmental organisations and government all send us advertisements. You do business when there is security," he says.

Lashkar Gah is also witnessing a boom in property prices.

"The news that business is good here has reached other districts of Helmand. People in those areas are willing to sell everything off in their native places for a piece of land in Lashkar Gah," a property dealer said.

Lashkar Gah's landscape is also changing, with banks cropping up on its main street

Lashkar Gah's landscape is also changing.

One can see branches of several Afghan banks along the main street.

There are also private clinics and hospitals.

''It is the result of good governance. If traders do not feel safe they won't open their business. Same for people, they will not leave their homes if they do not feel safe,'' an aide to the governor said.

Fertiliser used to make roadside bombs seized in Afghanistan

Afghan police have seized enough explosive chemicals to make hundreds of homemade bombs after finding it hidden in paint and pickle boxes in the back of a lorry in southern Kandahar.

Ammonium nitrate fertilizer was banned by Hamid Karzai earlier this year at the request of Nato troops because of its use in homemade explosives.
Photo: ALAMY

The 17 tonnes of banned fertiliser, which is the main ingredient in Taliban bombs, was being smuggled in 10lb boxes in a lorry from Quetta in Pakistan according to officers.
Gen Mohammad Shafiq Fazli said the lorry had been tracked before being seized south of the city. Four people were arrested including two Pakistan nationals he said.

Hidden homemade bombs targeting patrols and convoys account for nearly two thirds of Nato casualties and also indiscriminately kill hundreds of Afghans.
The bombs hidden in tracks and walls which maim and kill British soldiers in Helmand often contain less than 50lbs of explosive, meaning the haul could have made hundreds of devices.

To read the full article click here

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VIDEO: Sayedabad Flag Raising

Following on from the post last week, BFBS Reports utilised Combat Camera Team imagery to support their latest report.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Sapper Ishwor Gurung killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Sapper Ishwor Gurung from 69 Gurkha Field Squadron, 21 Engineer Regiment, was killed in Afghanistan on Friday 13 August 2010.

On 13 August 2010, whilst constructing a new sangar to increase the protection and security of the soldiers in the camp, his Troop came under insurgent attack and Sapper Ishwor was caught in insurgent fire. Despite the best efforts of his Troop to save his life, Sapper Ishwor was killed in action.

Sapper Ishwor Gurung

Sapper Ishwor Gurung was born in Pokhara, Nepal on 15 October 1988. Having passed selection for the Brigade of Gurkhas in Pokhara on 14 December 2007, he went on to complete initial infantry training in Catterick, North Yorkshire and Combat Engineer training at the Royal School of Military Engineering in Minley. He was subsequently posted to 69 Gurkha Field Squadron, part of 36 Engineer Regiment in Maidstone Kent and trained as a Bricklayer and Concreter.

Sapper Ishwor spent the last year preparing for this, his first operational tour. This included a large scale construction exercise in Devon and mission specific training in Ripon North Yorkshire. He excelled throughout these activities, proving not only his burgeoning professional knowledge but his keen desire to deploy on operations in Afghanistan. He was an outstanding sportsman and had represented 36 Engineer Regiment in Divisional cross country competitions and boxed for his Squadron.

Sapper Ishwor had been working with his Troop in support of 2nd Battalion Duke of Lancaster's Battle Group, Combined Force Nad-e-Ali (North), improving the defences at Forward Operating Base SHAHZAD. On 13 August 2010, whilst constructing a new sangar to increase the protection and security to the soldiers in the camp, his Troop came under insurgent attack and Sapper Ishwor was shot by insurgent fire. Despite the best efforts of his Troop to save his life, Sapper Ishwor was killed in action.

The family of Sapper Ishwor Gurung have made the following statement:

"Our family is devastated with the news of Ishwor's death in Afghanistan on 13 Aug 10. Ishwor was 14 years old when his father died and he fully supported the family as a young man. He was a very caring and a very bright boy. He followed his father's footsteps, his father was a soldier in the Indian Army. He loved the Army and was very proud to be a Gurkha. I am proud that my son served in the British Army and that he died doing a job that he loved."

Lieutenant Colonel Bobby Walton-Knight Royal Engineers, Commanding Officer 21 Engineer Regiment Group said:

"Sapper Ishwor Gurung was an exceptionally good soldier. He was enormously proud to be a Queen's Gurkha Engineer, he loved his Squadron and, like every Gurkha Engineer, he loved soldiering. Sapper Ishwor had bags of energy and his motivation never faulted. Even after the longest of days, on the most demanding tasks in the toughest of conditions, he would have a huge smile on his face and be ready for more.

"His enthusiasm was infectious and his friends loved him for it. He was modest to a fault, polite and, even when covered in dust and mud, still managed to be immaculately turned out. He was exceptionally fit, almost unbeatable at cross country and unstoppable in the boxing ring. Although he was still young, his potential had already been spotted and it would not have been long before he made it as a non-commissioned officer.

"Sapper Ishwor died putting his own life in danger to provide protection for others. He was doing a job he loved and was surrounded by friends. It was an honour to have him with the Regiment; his death is an enormous loss to us all and in particular to The Queen's Gurkha Engineers. Our thoughts and prayers are with his mother Sunkumari, brother Ramprasad and sister Richa in Nepal, his wider family and his many friends."

Lieutenant Colonel Simon Hulme MBE Royal Engineers, Commanding Officer 36 Engineer Regiment said:

"The loss of Sapper Ishwor Gurung has dealt a heavy blow to all ranks of the Queen's Gurkha Engineers. He was immensely talented as a soldier, a sportsman and an individual. Sapper Ishwor set the example for his comrades to follow.

"Sapper Ishwor had a bright future ahead of him, his dedication and his ability to focus and apply his efforts in even the most difficult circumstances marked him out above his peers. His bright and enigmatic smile brought cheer to even the most difficult of situations.

"He was active in all that he did, thoughtful for those around him and incredibly loyal. His service within the Queen's Gurkha Engineers, although short, will never be forgotten; he has left his mark on all that he did and on all those that he met. He will be sadly missed. Our thoughts are with his mother and family at this difficult time."

VIDEO: Dr Liam Fox in Afghanistan

BFBS Forces News interviewed Dr Liam Fox during his recent visit to Afghanistan.