Tuesday, May 12, 2009

2 MERCIAN step up the fight against the Taliban

The fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan has stepped up a gear after Operation ZAFAR successfully forced a retreat of Taliban fighters from several villages near Lashkar Gah.

Under the watchful eye of 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (2 MERCIAN), hundreds of members of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police deployed on the operation which saw two days of continuous fighting.

Two Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT), each formed of ten soldiers from 2 MERCIAN, accompanied the Afghan Warriors while Gurkhas supported the Police.

During the week-long Op ZAFAR, many Taliban insurgents are known to have been killed, while the ANA and 2 MERCIAN troops sustained only a handful of casualties, none of which were serious.

Op ZAFAR succeeded in pushing the Taliban out of several villages in the area of Basharan near to the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah, and by the end of the week groups of UK stabilisation teams were conducting meetings with the local elders who have been under the shadow of the Taliban for some time.

The teams offered a range of ways to help the villagers, from refurbishing schools to improving healthcare provision.

The operation was co-ordinated on the ground by the 2 MERCIAN Battle Group headquarters and, in total, 35 soldiers from the battalion were involved in the operation at all levels up to and including the Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton.

Lt Col Banton said:

"Alongside the MERCIAN soldiers, the Warriors of the Afghan Army proved to be seasoned fighters and fought hard to provide security in this part of their own country. Under the careful guidance of the Gurkhas, the policemen reassured the local people.

"Following these operations, meetings known as shuras were held involving local elders, religious teachers and leaders, where the Afghan Forces outlined plans for future security and reconstruction."

Captain Sam Boudet-Fenouillet of 2 MERCIAN said:

"The enemy provided a determined resistance and were not willing to give up the area without a fight - fighting lasted for 48 hours. During one particularly fierce three-hour phase, all elements of the force were in combat and as gunfire crackled through the air, air strikes and artillery bombardments were called in to support our troops.

"The first two days saw the most fighting, but the enemy were outmatched and soon withdrew."

The operation also saw Royal Engineers build a permanent base for the ANA, to ensure future security in the area, called Checkpoint Worcester. Within only 30 hours, the Engineers had secured and fortified an area the size of two football pitches.

One of the OMLTs was led by Captain Rob Agnew, whose role was Fire Support Group, which involves overseeing the use of artillery, aircraft and helicopters for the commanding officer.

Captain Agnew's team, equipped with armed Land Rovers, Javelin missiles and mortars, was sitting in reserve when another team led a raid on a compound to secure a holding area but as they were progressing an armoured vehicle struck a mine. The team was called in to lead the ANA troops to the holding area and while doing so were shot at:

"We were stranded on a single track in our vehicles and our training tells us to drive through while returning fire which we did," said Capt Agnew. "One of my corporals said at the time: 'they were bloody close'.

"Once through we were able to stop in a side ride out of sight for some relative safety."

2 MERCIAN has been in Afghanistan for approximately six weeks and their major role is to mentor and train the ANA to improve their ability to fight the insurgents on their own.

Lt Col Banton said:

"This operation was another example of the progress being made by the Afghanistan National Army. They proved to be flexible, committed and brave. On more than one occasion it was touch and go as the enemy fought hard but the Afghan Warriors did not retreat.

"You can be assured that the MERCIAN soldiers fought hard and were absolutely indomitable. They are fine successors to many thousands of infantrymen who have joined and fought with regiments raised in Nottingham, Derbyshire and Worcestershire for the last 300 years.

"This was the largest operation that 2 MERCIAN has been involved in since we took over and I am very proud of my soldiers."

This is the battalion's third tour of Afghanistan in five years; they deployed as the OMLT Battle Group on 27 March 2009 for a six-month operational tour which will see them return to their base in Belfast in late September 2009.

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