Soldiers from the Royal Artillery, Royal Engineers and 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) have been working in Helmand to develop and train a new unit of the Afghan National Army (ANA) in specialist skills.
The Combat Support Kandak (the Afghan term for a battalion, numbering approximately 350 men) was established to provide artillery, engineering and reconnaissance support to the operations undertaken by 3/205 Brigade of the Afghan National Army.
Soldiers from 1 RIFLES have been providing operational mentoring to the Combat Support Kandak and Major Jim Hill, Officer Commanding of the Combat Support Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (CS OMLT), said:
"To be truly effective, the ANA need to be able to support their own operations, in the key areas of offensive support, combat engineering and reconnaissance.
"The Combat Support Kandak has a proven track record as a ground-holding unit operating in the infantry role, but is now focused upon the development of its specialist capabilities.
"The ANA undertake regular patrolling and operations throughout Helmand province, which require combat support. Whilst ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] are ready and willing to provide elements of this support, it is increasingly important that the ANA are able to contribute from within their own integral resources."
In a demonstration of the progress being made, personnel from the ANA Artillery Company recently completed their first live firing exercise, having undertaken a concentrated training package with the D-30 gun - the ANA light artillery gun.
32 Afghan personnel underwent a five-week gunnery training assessment course run at Camp Shorabak in Helmand province, the main base for 3/205 Brigade. They were mentored throughout by members of 26 Regiment Royal Artillery who are attached to the OMLT to provide expertise on the use of artillery.
Many of the Warriors (Afghan Private soldiers) had previous experience of using artillery but limited formal training. With many of them recently committed to infantry operations in the Nad e-Ali area following Operation SOND CHARA, they returned to Shorabak in late January as eager students, keen to return to their role as artillerymen.
They undertook lessons on indirect fire procedures, firing data computation, ammunition care and equipment maintenance, and the basic gunnery skills, including rudimentary mathematics, required to enable them to produce effective and accurate indirect artillery fire.
The culmination of their training was the live firing of two D-30 light artillery guns, putting all of the Warriors through their paces. A series of targets were engaged accurately at ranges out to 7km.
Major Paul 'Red' Redgrave, the Technical Instructor in Gunnery within the Combat Support OMLT, who headed up the training package, said:
"The live firing exercise was an excellent opportunity to confirm the basic skills required of the ANA artillerymen operating both on the guns and also within the command post, preparing the vital firing data.
"Many of these individuals have previous artillery experience and the concentrated training period and live firing opportunities have allowed us to set a sound basis for further work in the future.
"For me, personally, my tour is nearing an end and I look forward to being able to hand over these artillery soldiers, with the new skills they have developed, to the next OMLT. I am delighted with the progress that has been made and the skills they have demonstrated."
Personnel from 24 Commando Engineer Regiment have also deployed within the CS OMLT, mentoring the Afghan Engineer Company. They have taught construction techniques and assisted in the preparation of Afghan National Security Forces infrastructure.
This has included the renovation and construction of patrol bases and checkpoints, and substantial work to 'winterise' their accommodation and bases during the bitter winter months, improving the facilities and defences.
As an example of their progress, on Op ATTAL, an ANA operation in January 2009 in the Spin Masjed area, a group of 20 Afghan engineers with six engineer mentors constructed two Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints.
Using their own plant equipment and vehicles, under difficult operational conditions including regular small arms, mortar and improvised explosive device attacks, the engineers successfully established these sizeable positions in under three days.
The resulting positions have been crucial to the continued security in this key area to the south west of Gereshk.
The Royal Engineer mentors have also been training the Afghan Engineers in explosive hazard awareness and techniques to search for and dispose of improvised explosive devices in order to keep themselves, their colleagues and the local population safe.
Finally, to improve the efficiency of their operations, the Recce Company of the CS Kandak have been receiving instruction in the skills of reconnaissance. Utilising both UK and US expertise, the Recce Warriors have completed an intensive training package based upon establishing the enhanced skills required of a reconnaissance soldier.
Focusing upon patrol skills, weapon-handling, navigation and tactics, they have recently deployed on a number of tasks in support of ISAF and ANA operations.
Major Jim Hill has overseen these aspects and knows that significant progress is being made. With his tour drawing to a close he knows he is handing over a body of men with a developing skill in specialist trades - skills which will be essential for the future ANA, as it takes a greater role in providing security for the people of Helmand.
He summarises the developments:
"The British soldiers working alongside their ANA colleagues over recent months have been called upon to mentor in a wide variety of roles and locations. Fighting together as infantry established firm relationships between mentors and the ANA, which have allowed rapid progress to be made upon their return to specialist roles.
"The ANA have worked very hard to master these skills and it has been most rewarding for the mentors from these specialised areas to see the improvement in ANA capability.
"As our tour comes to a close, we are pleased to be handing over to the incoming British OMLT, the 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment, with elements of the Afghan Combat Support Kandak now operating in their specialist roles. We look forward to hearing of further successful support to operations in the future."