Sunday, February 28, 2010

Afghan mission 'gone well' but real battle to come

Chief of Defence Staff, Sir Jock Stirrup meets Colonel Abdul Mohammed the ANA Commander at Showal. Picture: Sqn Ldr Dee Taylor, RAF

On a visit to Helmand, the head of the armed forces has said that British troops have performed superbly in Operation Moshtarak, and that the initial phase has gone well.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup was speaking as he flew in to Showal, formerly the heartland of the Taliban's shadow government.

He said there were still pockets of resistance further south in Marjah, where the Americans have been fighting, and some resistance in Nad Ali, but that levels had eased considerably over the last few days.

Security was tight for Sir Jock's visit.

In the skies, an Apache attack helicopter was visible as it circled above, while soldiers from the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh kept watch as the head of the armed forces came to talk to British and Afghan forces involved in Operation Moshtarak.

Speaking at a patrol base in the town, which appeared relatively quiet, he thanked British and Afghan forces for their work.

"Op Moshtarak is just the initial phase, and the clear phase went extraordinarily well, and it was a professionally-executed operation that went very smoothly. Our forces performed superbly."

However, he told the BBC that the coalition was not complacent.

"This is a tough fight, and it is a hard campaign, and you have got some pretty determined and quite clever opponents. They have a vote in this, and we have to be able to react to that, to enable us to keep them on the back foot," he said.

'Test the ground'

Just two weeks ago, the Taliban flag flew over this town; as the coalition moved in, it was replaced with the Afghan national flag that now flies from a tall white crane, visible from the low reinforced mud walled compounds that surround it.

However, soldiers here say that although many of the insurgents melted away after 4,000 coalition and Afghan troops launched the overall operation - 1,200 of them dropped in by air on D-Day - many insurgents remained to watch and test the ground.

Three British soldiers died during the "clear" phase of the operation.

Outside the military compound in Showal, young men from the town sit on the riverbank.

Some covered their faces as we passed; a few of the younger children smiled.

But the impression was of people waiting warily, wondering which side it will prove safest to support.

Last week, insurgents managed to place an IED makeshift bomb beneath a British truck, 20 yards from the crane. Nobody was hurt; only part of the charge went off.

"The Taliban haven't left - they're always looking for weaknesses, and they'll come back when they get the manpower again. But we're prepared for that," says Fusilier Dave Rollings, 24, from Cardiff, of the 1st Battalion the Royal Welsh.

Cpl Spiros Parry, 28, from Penygoves in Wales, agrees.

"It wasn't as heavy as we thought it would be, but it's still been eventful. Everyone's aware of the threat from IEDs, but the boys are doing well finding them, and the teams have cleared the routes for the convoys. So far, so good."

For the full article click here for BBC Online

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