Friday, January 29, 2010
PICTURE of the day: Wishtan – the Devil’s Playground?
By Major Graeme Wearmouth, B Company, The Royal Scots Borderers
Each patch in Helmand presents a different challenge to operate in. Certain places earn reputations more chilling than others. In the summer of 2009, Wishtan in east Sangin earned such a reputation. The sacrifices made by the Company from 2nd Battalion The Rifles based in Wishtan during that time are sadly well known, and recognition for their heroism well deserved. We picked up their baton and, halfway through our own tour it is worth reflecting on what has been achieved since September.
Outwardly not much is different. Our manning, equipment, general tactics and approach are similar. There have inevitably been tactical developments allowing us to target the IED layers with more success. We are wary of tempting fate, and our unofficial mottoes have become ‘a day at a time’ and ‘you are only as good as your next patrol’.
We have a long way to go on this tour and it remains a deadly battle. The margin for error is slim but we have built on the work of our predecessors, and the words of their outgoing commanders urging us to take this place forward still feel like a big responsibility – but one that we will shoulder.
The daily reminder to do our duty is the cross bearing the names of those who have fallen here before. Our path has, as you would expect, not been easy. We have had our own wounds to see to. But we have also had success.
Our success may seem gradual to the West but the significance of steps like successfully encouraging locals to use roads and compounds they previously have not, whether due to IEDs or a misplaced fear of soldiers, cannot be underestimated.
Locals are now more willing to come forward and speak to us, cautiously at first but with more confidence day by day. They have seen the time consuming and high risk clearance operations we have carried out to ensure their roads and compounds are safe. Their hopes are very similar to our own – security, prosperity and a better life for their children.
Most of the Afghans who remain in Wishtan’s high walled compounds, are wonderfully hospitable and show real understanding for the campaign that is being fought around them. Yes, they may sit on the fence due to fear of insurgent backlash, waiting to see who endures as the dominating force - but they do not enjoy the oppression the insurgency brings.
We speak to the victims of the insurgency – the fathers’ whose children have been killed by IEDs while playing in the street and the already impoverished who have their money and supplies stolen from them. These people understandably plead for revenge.
There have been isolated examples of insurgents rejected by the locals but we want to see this trickle become a steady stream and then a surge. That is the longer term hope and as the Afghan Security Forces develop, the people’s confidence to stand up will follow. In the meantime they quietly tell us about dangers and about the methods of intimidation they face. They attend shuras and quietly accept grants from the Government to develop their communities which are real signs of progress.
I will not claim that we have turned the corner in four months. This is a long campaign and we know from bitter experience that the insurgents have not disappeared. They have kept up their activity over the colder months but have been unable to halt the development work being done. This is a sign of the growing will of the local people and we hope it will continue.
Pictures: Lt Sally Armstrong, RN