Tuesday, December 8, 2009
A soldiers from the 1 Platoon A Company, 3 RIFLES on Radio stag
Picture: Sergeant Keith Cotton RLC (Phot)
When news of the death of the Royal Anglian soldier was broken to the men of the Coldstream Guards there was an inner flicker registering the tragedy but it was quickly replaced by a determination to continue the mission.
By Thomas Harding in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Daily Telegraph
The troops are so focused on fighting the counter insurgency campaign that very few if any had realised that the soldier’s death was the 100th this year.
The inevitable public debate over the mission in Afghanistan that will follow the unfortunate landmark will have very little effect on those fighting on the ground.
The wavering on the home front comes at a time that when tangible progress seems to be happening in Helmand, although much of that public wavering can be blamed on the politicians’ inability to adequately explain why we are in Afghanistan and why now that we are here the campaign has to be won.
For the first time since covering the conflict in Helmand from its inception I can detect signs that there are grounds for some optimism that it could be successfully concluded.
There are many caveats to that statement, but there are some deep-thinking soldiers here who realise that with the proper political backing, enough investment and above all patience to absorb another 100 fatalities or more, Helmand could become a success story.
Roads are being built in an area that only five months ago was terrorised by the Taliban, similarly schools will be opened in defiance of insurgent intimidation. It will be slow work building up the Afghan army and police and substantial money is needed for them as they are part of the ticket out.
But the last thing that soldiers want to hear is that all the blood and sacrifice made since 2006 is lost to public opinion just at a time when a dim glimmer of light is appearing at the end of a long tunnel.
Troops realise that progress comes at a cost and that their job does not come without risk but they are still very willing to do it, to the point that they will pay little attention to the doomsayers at home.
They will take a quiet minute to say a silent prayer, especially the Coldstreamers I am currently with in a patrol base a few hundred yards from the Taliban front line in the Babaji district. Tonight the body of their comrade, Acting Sergeant John Amer, is being flown home after he was killed in this area three days ago.
They will chose their own quiet moments to grieve but tomorrow, in the biting December cold of Helmand, they will don their helmets and body, pick up their rifles and carry on the patrols against an enemy they believe that they can defeat.
It is at least an enemy they can fight.