Monday, May 31, 2010

Life as a frontline medic in Afghanistan

Lance Corporal (LCpl) Michael 'Doc' McLoughlin is a medic with the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to The Royal Dragoon Guards. He is currently serving with a ground holding unit on the frontline against the Taliban in the southern district of Nad-e-Ali. The patrol base was seized as part of operation Moshtarak early in the year.

LCpl McLoughlin (22) from Manchester is the first line of medical support for the soldiers of C Squadron Royal Dragoon Guards who are currently operating as an infantry unit for their six-month tour of Afghanistan. The patrol base is some two kilometres from other ISAF locations. It regularly comes under fire from insurgents, as do the soldiers who patrol the surrounding area to provide protection and security for the local villagers.

"As a medic within the infantry, I'm an infantry soldier when I'm out on the ground, but I carry a lot of medical equipment, in case my trade is needed. So I'm kind of dual traded in a way. I do their job, but I also do the trade of my own," said LCpl McLoughlin.

As a frontline medic, LCpl McLoughlin spends most of his time out on patrol. It is his job to provide the immediate life saving first aid to soldiers if the worst should happen. This can include administering any fluids and pain relief required until the Medical Emergency Response Team are able to extract the casualty by helicopter. Each of the soldiers he serves alongside is also medically trained, but his specialist knowledge and equipment provide that extra support.

Inside the patrol base, he is the expert for routine medical problems. He comments, "The lads do come to me a lot and ask for basics such as sunscreen, can you look at my feet, or I've got an itch; just little things. I'm also there as a shoulder if needs be, to talk things through."

In addition to working with British forces, LCpl McLoughlin now spends some of his time teaching the Afghan National Police (ANP) attached to the patrol base in the basics of first aid. This is part of ISAF's increasing role to partner with the Afghan security forces as well as mentoring them.

He comments, "Every person gets skills fade, so we teach them (the ANP) to refresh their skills - everything from putting on a tourniquet to assembling a stretcher. Anything that will allow them to help themselves if ISAF isn't there. They now have the skills from our knowledge to save their lives."

Camp Bastion doubles in size

Report by Sharon Kean, Defence Focus

Camp Bastion, the lynchpin of British, and increasingly American, operations in Helmand, is a desert metropolis, complete with airport, that is expanding at a remarkable pace.

Bastion exists for one reason: to be the logistics hub for operations in Helmand. Supply convoys and armoured patrols regularly leave its heavily-defended gates. They support the military forward operating bases, patrol bases and checkpoints spread across Helmand province.

Colonel Angus Mathie is the officer in charge of the British-owned and run camp. His main role is to ensure the base is secure. He also keeps a hand on the tiller of development, deciding where people are going to live, and if someone wants to move a unit somewhere it's the Colonel who gives them the OK.

Colonel Angus Mathie, Commander Bastion

It is also Colonel Mathie's office that provides all the administrative support to all the units in Bastion, everything from cashing cheques to organising leave.

Speaking about the area where Camp Bastion has been built, Colonel Mathie says:

"Whoever picked this bit of ground really got it right. It's right in the middle of the desert and the Russians were never here, so there is no legacy of unexploded ordnance."

The UK's largest military base and centre of operations in Afghanistan needs that desert. The camp has doubled in size during the past year. Following the surge of 12,000 US troops who share it, Bastion now accommodates 21,000 people:

"It's one thing looking at Bastion on a map," says Colonel Mathie, "it's another thing driving around it. People returning who were here a year ago are absolutely amazed because it is so much bigger."

Leatherneck, the American camp-within-a-camp, was built to accommodate the surge troops. Now, this mega-base spreads across 35 square kilometres:

"There was an argument that it should be in Lashkar Gah, among the people," Colonel Mathie says. "But we could never have put this there."

The wide open spaces around the camp are largely empty terrain. Within the perimeter, graded roads with ditches on either side divide prefab buildings and tents erected to a strict grid system.

Some of the 200 British and American vehicles preparing to leave Camp Bastion on the largest Combat Logistic Patrol to take place in Afghanistan

Bastion's airfield handles around 600 fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft movements every day:

"It's a remarkable place," says the Colonel, "busier than Luton or Stansted, and it's twice as busy now as it was three months ago. Most movements are helicopters, but they are just as demanding as fixed-wing aircraft."

Providing protection to every British aircraft arriving or leaving Bastion is the RAF Regiment who patrol out on the ground to make sure nobody can take a shot.

Bastion is home to around 5,000 UK military personnel from more than 60 Navy, Army and RAF units. There are also some 2,000 contractors providing a multitude of services, from building maintenance to catering. The Americans, in the fully incorporated Camp Leatherneck, number around 14,000.

The waste created by so many people is disposed of in eight incinerators and a burn pit. There is also a water bottling plant, providing drinking water sourced from the Hindu Kush.

Colonel Mathie explains how he keeps his finger on the pulse from day-to-day:

"Every morning at 8.30 I meet with representatives from every unit in Bastion, including the Americans, Danes and Estonians. We give them an intelligence update, an operations update and the weather. Then we get an update on what they're doing."

Colonel Angus Mathie shows Defence Focus reporter Sharon Kean a map of the sprawling Camp Bastion

The sheer size and importance of the base means that security is the thought preoccupying Colonel Mathie and many of his staff, from the moment they wake until their eyes close at the end of the long days.

The perimeter fence winds its way over many kilometres, traversing guard towers, weapons pits and sangars. Sensitive long-range cameras and radars scan the surrounding area for suspicious movements that might presage attacks, and seemingly these precautions have been effective:

"Attacks on Bastion happen very rarely," Colonel Mathie says. "The main threat here is from IEDs and we've had a number in the nearby wadi over the last few months. During Operation MOSHTARAK there was a half-hearted attempt to throw some rockets at us, but none of them hit the camp. We have force protection teams and a patrol base to the south of here, which is manned 24-hours-a-day."

Commander Bastion, as the Colonel is known, likens the sprawling military base to a medieval fort:

"People outside have moved towards the edges of the base because of the security afforded by it, in the same way that settlements would develop around castles."

He points to a patch of greenery a short distance outside the wire belonging to a local farmer, who has cultivated melons on ground irrigated by water flowing from Bastion.

The melons are sold to the drivers of the vehicles delivering stores to the camp, but official trade with such farmers is out of the question says Colonel Mathie:

"We have to be very careful about any local produce - the security implications of buying our food locally are just too many."

But there has to be interaction with local people. The main entry point to Bastion processes around 250 vehicles every day, including about 50 tankers bringing in the fuel needed to run generators, kitchens and vehicles. All must be searched by soldiers and military search dogs before they are allowed onto the base.

In a bid to loosen the log jam without compromising security, a 3.5m gallon fuel depot is being built just outside the camp. A pipeline will run from there to Bastion's diesel and petrol pumps, removing the need for tankers to drive onto the base:

"The fewer vehicles we have to bring in here the better," says the Colonel.

There are also hundreds of local people employed to work within the wire:

"We run checks through the intelligence services, and RAF Police and Royal Military Police also vet people regularly," he explains.

Locally-employed civilians live in a camp within the camp:

"They are not allowed to be roaming the streets of Bastion after 1900hrs. There's a curfew and we keep a tight grip on it," says Colonel Mathie.

Colonel Mathie says that if anyone tries to fire a rocket at Camp Bastion from outside the wire, radar will detect where it's going to land, and if that's within 800m of the perimeter, the warning alarm automatically sounds so everyone can take cover.

There are though also threats to personnel inside the wire and road traffic accidents are a concern to the Colonel:

"This is a very dangerous environment, if only because we're expanding and we've got lots of construction traffic. Visibility can be less than 50 metres."

The camp, its airfield and the surrounding 670-kilometre area of operations are regularly patrolled by the RAF Regiment, RAF Police and US Marines. Co-operation with the Americans is complete, but there are differences:

"They are slightly more expeditionary over in Leatherneck," says Colonel Mathie. "It's the only place I've been to in my military career where we are more comfortable than the Americans.

"Compared to a patrol base, it's luxury. The facilities are good, considering we're stuck in the middle of the Afghan desert. It's a good place to come to get a bit of rest if you have been at one of the patrol bases. However, I wouldn't want it to be so comfortable that it had an adverse effect on operational efficiency."

Pictures: Corporal Lynny Cash

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Working with the Afghan media in Helmand

Report by Sharon Kean, Defence Focus

As an Afghan Media Officer for Task Force Helmand, Army Captain Niall Taylor helps Afghan journalists tell Afghan people about the work of British and ISAF personnel.

Captain Taylor is based at the British HQ in Lashkar Gah but spends a lot of his time traveling out to the surrounding districts such as Nad 'Ali, Gereshk and Sangin, taking local Afghan journalists with him.

Captain Niall Taylor

"It's better for the Afghans to tell the Afghans what's going on," he explains. "I take journalists out for two or three nights at a time to look at the different things being done by our military and provincial reconstruction teams."

Captain Taylor's role involves working closely with civilian stabilisation team leaders - UK civil servants deployed to Afghanistan - to find out about projects, and then arrange visits to them. There are now well-documented schools projects, mosques are being built and bazaars are being refurbished:

"They are also building park areas because there are very few areas in the districts for people to socialise," he says. "In Nad 'Ali district centre the school is thriving, the medical centre now has two buildings fully refurbished and in use, and they're currently building a women's waiting area, so there is a place for them to socialise without having to be near the men."

Afghan journalists at work in Helmand province

I meet Captain Taylor in Camp Bastion en route back to his base in Lashkar Gah. Travelling with him was Jawad, one of two local journalists he'd escorted to the district of Nad 'Ali.

Jawad is a 20-year-old freelance journalist who typically makes 30-minute current affairs TV documentaries. He is also based in Lashkar Gah but works further afield, travelling most days of the week, often accompanying Provincial Governor Gulab Mangal as he moves around Helmand province. His work as an independent journalist in Helmand province is far from risk-free:

"We get threats from insurgents if we do not publish what they say," he explains. "For example, a Taliban journalist called me up to say they attacked a convoy of foreign troops and killed 23 foreign soldiers. I said I didn't know about this. He said 'I am saying it so you should broadcast it'."

Jawad reported the comments, but clearly attributed them to a Taliban spokesperson:

"I also said that foreign forces said no incident happened when I filed my report," he said.

An Afghan cameraman films two local boys outside an ISAF patrol base

In his five-year career as a journalist, Jawad has come under direct fire several times:

"When I leave the office every day to get stories I don't know if I'll come home alive. Six months ago one of my colleagues was shot and killed. The bullet went through my sleeve as I was sitting next to him."

He refers to the words of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai when describing his willingness to work in such a dangerous profession:

"If we don't shed our blood we can't make this country into a stable country."

Although Captain Taylor acts as a military escort for journalists such as Jawad, he encourages them to speak to the local people rather than the British military:

"I think the original expectation was that because we are taking them, they have to talk to us," he explains. "But I've tried to introduce the journalists to the District Governor and then step back and let them plan what they want to do."

Being able to communicate with the Afghan media is an essential part of Captain Taylor's job, which means a working knowledge of Pashtu - one of the many languages spoken in Afghanistan - is necessary. Captain Taylor's training for his role involved a 15-month course at the Defence School of Languages in Beaconsfield before deploying to Helmand in February.

"I can converse enough to interact quite freely with the journalists," he says, although he describes Pashtu as one of the most difficult languages he's encountered. "Not only do they have regional dialects - like a Scotsman talking to a Welshman - but they have village dialect variations too."

Dialects often mix Pashtu with the other languages spoken by Afghans, which include Dari, Urdu, Farsi, Baluchi and Arabic:

"We are in Afghanistan to deal with the Afghan people, to support them. I thought the most important thing I could be doing was learning their language, so I could ask them what they actually wanted and be able to tell them what we are doing and discuss with them if it was the right way to be doing it," he says.

Working with the Afghan media has been a steep learning curve for Captain Taylor whose military career prior to learning Pashtu was as a vehicle troop commander with the Royal Logistic Corps:

"On my first day in the job at 8am I was told the Afghan journalists were coming onto camp for a press conference with David Cameron," he says.

"I was thrown straight in and introduced by my translators to a mob of reporters, who all wanted to meet me. Conversing with them in a foreign language was pretty scary. I spoke to the head journalist in the area first, then tried to meet everyone else after."

The role of Afghan Media Officer depends upon good working relationships with local journalists, which, in a country with very different cultural values, is not always easy:

"They get very angry about things that we might not consider to be major issues, but perhaps are in Pashtun culture," he explains. "At a news conference we ran for a VIP visit, local journalists had to be searched by an extra security team and they just didn't understand why. The majority of them haven't been outside of Afghanistan so they haven't had to deal with international security measures."

Pictures: Corporal Dave Blackburn RAF

Friday, May 28, 2010

School’s in for British troops on Afghanistan’s frontline

Even in the heat of the green zone of Afghanistan, the education of British troops is still important. Be it developing their core skills in maths and English or completing leadership courses for promotion, it is lessons as usual for British Troops.

Lieutenant Laura Bullen (28) from Bridge of Allan, Stirling is an Educational Training Services officer with the 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, or 1 Lancs, currently based out of forward operating base Shawqat in Nad-e-Ali. She says: “My job here is to continue the education of 1 Lancs soldiers. The soldiers have periods of down time, they’re not continuously out fighting, and it is during these periods that I’m here to do education.

“I open up the education centre in Shawqat and then anyone can drop in. I have lots of guys on camp who are doing courses at the moment and they pop by when they have a spare five or ten minutes, ask some questions, get some more work from me and then get back to their day jobs.”

Whilst on tour, it’s Laura’s job to teach the soldiers of 1 Lancs and get them through the necessary courses that they need to do. This can mean working out of the education centre or going forward, carrying the kit she’ll need, to the patrol bases and check points to ensure that frontline soldiers do not miss out.

Laura says: “When I go forward to the smaller bases it is quite difficult. I take the absolute minimum resources. I take one calculator and one dictionary but I have to improvise with what I’ve got there - I’ll use stones if needs be!”

For Lieutenant Bullen, who gained her PGCE in adult education through the Army, it is not just about getting soldiers through the necessary courses to promote, it is about giving them lasting skills to take away with them when they leave the army.

“We do basic numeracy and literacy and also Command, Leadership and Management courses, which is the course they need to do to promote. It is actually a civilian qualification as well. It’s Level 1 numeracy and literacy, so they can use it when they leave the army.”

Corporal Stephen Paul Curley killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Corporal Stephen Paul Curley from 40 Commando Royal Marines, serving as part of Combined Force Sangin, was killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday 26 May 2010.

Corporal Curley was killed in an explosion while he was conducting a ground domination foot patrol through the southern Green Zone in order to reassure local nationals and understand their concerns about living in the area.

Corporal Stephen Curley, Royal Marines

Corporal Stephen Curley was 26 years old; he was born in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire. Married to Kirianne, he lived in Exeter with their 5 month old son, William. He joined Royal Marines Recruit Training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines on 31 March 2003, passing for duty on 17 March 2004.

On completion of training he was drafted to Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines and subsequently deployed to Iraq on Operation TELIC 4 in 2004. 2006 saw his first deployment to Afghanistan on Op HERRICK 5, serving with Lima Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines; during which he distinguished himself by saving a fellow marine’s life. Further training with 42 Commando, on exercise in Northern Norway provided him with experience of operating in a mountain and cold weather environment.

Established as an experienced and professional marine, he was selected for Command Training, passing his Junior Command Course and promoting to Corporal in March 2009. A keen runner and climber; with a taste for cold weather warfare, Cpl Curley chose to volunteer for the arduous 9 month Mountain Leaders Course, becoming a qualified Mountain Leader (Class 2) in April 2009.

Rejoining Charlie Company, 40 Commando Royal Marines in September 2009, he undertook the Advanced Urban Combat Instructor's Course, a role he relished within 7 Troop. In March 2010 he deployed once again to Afghanistan on Op HERRICK 12, serving in Sangin as part of the FOB JACKSON Operations Company.

On the late afternoon of Wednesday 26 May 2010, Charlie Company was conducting a foot patrol in and around the Southern Green Zone to reassure the local nationals and understand their concerns. At 1831 hours local in the Sangin area an explosion occurred and as a result Corporal Curley was killed in action.

His wife Kirianne said:

"It is impossible for me to express what my husband meant to me, Daddy to our 18 week old son William and my partner in crime, Stevie was my purpose, what makes me tick. A man of few but powerful words when it mattered, he lived by the motto 'If you're not living life on the edge, you're taking up too much room'. This will be forever imprinted on our hearts.

"Stevie was a perfectionist - he prided himself on being the best and the best he was. His professionalism was highly regarded by all who knew him but it was his quirky un-PC one-liners that really caused a stir. Steve loved to make people laugh and laugh with them. Stevie was a quietly proud man, proud to be a Royal, proud to be my husband and proud to be a Daddy.

"Steve stood firmly for what he believed in a man who lived by his convictions and fought vehemently for what he thought was right. Steve loved his family, and would be so proud of his mother and brother. We will carry your heart with us always. Engraved in my wedding ring the words, Kirianne, my one, my love, my wife. Stephen, sleep well my love."

Lieutenant Colonel Paul James, Commanding Officer 40 Commando Group, Combined Force Sangin said:

"Corporal Stephen Curley was the very best of his generation; bright, fit, charismatic and supremely brave, he was a man who genuinely inspired others. Based with me in FOB JACKSON, I saw in him a selfless, loyal, utterly dedicated and natural leader of men.

"He died on patrol in Sangin leading the men he loved, and alongside the men who loved him. His sharp wit knew few limits, particularly in the gymnasium where he reigned supreme, with both the RSM and I regularly in the firing line. As a marine he was professionally unrivalled – a mountain leader, a consummate tactician and a brilliant section commander who cared passionately for his men.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Kirianne and new-born son William, his family and his friends. He will be desperately missed by everyone in 40 Commando. Corporal Stephen Curley was, and always will be, a Royal Marine Commando."

A junior officer's experience on the front line post Op Moshtarak

Clearing, holding, building in the green zone of Afghanistan - A junior officer's experience on the front line post Op Moshtarak

British cavalry soldiers from C Squadron, the Royal Dragoon Guards, take up the mantel to protect and rebuild the village of Gorup-e Shash Kalay, near Nad-e-Ali following Operation Moshtarak. The village sits on the green zone's frontline.

The cavalry soldiers, more used to moving around the battlefield in armoured reconnaissance vehicles, are carrying out a dismounted infantry role during their six-month tour of Afghanistan. The platoon, from the Catterick based Royal Dragoon Guards have recently taken over a patrol base in the southern part of the Nad-e-Ali district. The location was cleared of Taliban insurgents during Operation Moshtarak earlier in the year. The mission for the junior officer in charge, Lieutenant Nick Landon, is to provide security and redevelopment within the village's surrounding area.

"Prior to Op Moshtarak taking place to the south of Nad-e-Ali, this place was dominated by the Taliban. Certainly, when the first ISAF forces moved into this area they were unable to push south any more than 300 metres before they would see fire fights with the enemy," said Lieutenant Nick Landon, C Squadron, the Royal Dragoon Guards.

He continues, "Since Moshtarak has pushed the Taliban further to the south, the locals have seen a number of improvements into the village - reconstruction projects helped by ISAF and the Afghan National Police working with the village elder. We've currently got a 'cash-for-works' project ongoing just outside the patrol base to clear some irrigation ditches, allowing better irrigation to the farmers' crops and improving the quality of the road surface just out to the west."

Although fighting has reduced, the soldiers are still aware of the dangers of carrying out redevelopment work on the frontline of enemy troops.

"There is far less fighting around Group-e Shash than there was during Op Moshtarak. However, in the last few weeks we've had a number of shoots onto the sangers in the patrol base, which has helped keep the guys focused that it could very quickly turn kinetic," said Lieutenant Landon.

ISAF's presence near Group-e Shash Kalay is an example of the Helmand Taskforce commander's focus to 'clear', 'hold', and 'build' key population areas around the green zone. By providing joint security on the ground with ISAF and Afghan security forces, redevelopment projects with the locals can be undertaken, allowing communities to rebuild their lives.

"Now that ISAF are showing that we can clear the Taliban, and once the Taliban have gone we can bring reconstruction and development to the towns, we're finding that a lot of local nationals are coming to the patrol base for assistance," said Lieutenant Landon.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Gunner Zak Cusack killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Gunner Zak Cusack from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, serving as part of Combined Force Nahr-e Saraj (South), was killed in Afghanistan on 26 May 2010.

Gunner Cusack was participating in a routine reassurance patrol when he was killed during a small arms fire engagement with insurgent forces in an area around Enezai Village.

Gunner Zak Cusack

Gunner Zak Cusack was born on 16 September 1989 in Stoke on Trent. He joined the Army in September 2006, attending the Army Foundation College, Harrogate.

Upon completion of his training, he was posted to 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, then based in Osnabrück, Germany.

He joined 97 Battery (Lawson's Company) and deployed to Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 7 as a member of a light gun detachment. Upon return from Afghanistan, he moved with the Regiment to Topcliffe, North Yorkshire.

Having impressed with his fitness, aptitude and enthusiasm, Gunner Cusack was selected to transfer to a Fire Support Team and undertook extensive training in Canada between June and July 2009 before commencing Mission Specific Training for Operation HERRICK 12 in September last year.

His Fire Support Team moved under command of 129 (Dragon) Battery at the beginning of 2010 and he deployed to Afghanistan in March based in Nahr-e Saraj (South) with Malta Company, 1 MERCIAN, supporting 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles.

During his time in Afghanistan, his Fire Support Team has conducted dozens of joint patrols with the Afghan National Army to reassure the local population in Nahr-e Saraj and prevent intimidation of villagers by the insurgents.

It was on one of these reassurance patrols in an area around Enezai Village when he was killed in action during a small arms fire engagement with insurgent forces.

A keen sportsman and fitness enthusiast, Gunner Cusack thrived on life. Whether boxing, football or in the gym, he gave his all.

He excelled in his position as Fire Support Team signaller and was a key personality within his crew. Socially gregarious, he was an extremely popular member of his Battery, and his energy and enthusiasm were contagious.

An only child, he leaves behind his mother Tracey and father Sean.

Gunner Zak Cusak's Family said:

"Zak was a courageous, compassionate and charismatic young man. We are justly proud of not only the job that he did, but of the complete person we all knew and loved. For such a young man, Zak's infectious sense of humour, appetite for life and truly romantic heart inspired so many others.

"Zak's loss leaves a hole in our hearts, a chasm in our lives and many, many other broken hearts behind. He had a fire in his soul that will burn brightly in all our memories. He is our beautiful boy, loving son and best friend, in Zak's own words, ‘he is a ledge' (Legend)."

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Squier RA, Commanding Officer 4th Regiment Royal Artillery said:

"Gunner Zak Cusack was a big man with the personality to go with it. Young, fit and with a healthy love of life, he was always close to, or at the heart of, the action.

"A Stoke City fan in the North East Gunners will always have his work cut out, but his combination of cheeky charm and buoyant character always won out.

"As a soldier he had already given more than most in his short life. This was his second tour of Afghanistan having deployed in 2007 on his 18th birthday. True to his character and commitment he fought hard to move from the Gun Line to become a member of a Fire Support Team.

"Here his true potential shone through – he was a man made for the role. He fell as he had lived life, in the thick of things and with his mates in 97 Battery (Lawson's Company) and B (Malta) Company 1 MERCIAN.

"My thoughts and condolences go out to his parents Tracey and Sean and his many friends at home whose true loss we can only imagine. He will remain Forever Fourth."

VIDEO: David Beckham pays tribute to the British fallen

During last weekends visit to Camp Bation, David Beckham paid tribute to the British fallen, standing solemn and head bowed before a Camp Bastion memorial dedicated to those who have given their lives.

He slowly read the 28 names on each of the gleaming brass plaques denoting the full name, the regiment, the initials and the date of the deaths of each member of the UK Armed Forces – a total of 286.

Beckham, 35, on the second day of a goodwill visit to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan, and wearing a Help for Heroes charity wristband, stood silently in respect, lost in his own personal thoughts.

The England footballer was told that the 18-inch high cross on top of the stone memorial was made of 30mm cannon shells and every bereaved family receives their own cross personally inscribed and dedicated to the person who lost their life.

The memorial inscription reads: “Dedicated to those who have fallen in the line of duty in Helmand Province.” Two wreaths of poppies lay at the base of the memorial.

One inscription said: “To the fallen of OP HERRICK 11 lovingly remembered, never forgotten.”

Earlier Beckham had breakfast with senior officers including Deputy National Contingency Commander of British Forces, Brigadier Angus Fay who said: "I think it’s been fantastic for the British forces that he has show so much interest in the work we are doing.

"He is such an iconic figure to everyone of all ages and background. His effect on the morale has been phenomenal and we are very grateful for his commitment to us. Morale is through the roof – the whole place is buzzing.”

Reflecting on the trip to Afghanistan, Beckham said it has been “One of my best experiences of my whole life, to actually be here, to see first hand what you all go through. You have to leave your families, your friends, your loved ones, your kids, that must hard”.

Beckham added “I’ve represented my country on the field, and I’ve got great team mates and great friends, but every now and again I can let my team mates down on the field, you out here, you have to trust your friends, trust the people that you are next to, and your team mates, you don’t get another chance.

I have huge admiration for everything that you do, everything that you believe in, and everything that you are doing for our country; it’s a real honour for me to be here.”

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

VIDEO: Tractors handed out to Afghan farmers in Nad-e-Ali

Web edit of soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment handing out 20 new tractors to farming co-operatives in the Nad-e-Ali region of Helmand Province.

Tractors handed out to Afghan farmers in Nad-e-Ali

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, working with the International Relief and Development Agency and the Afghan Government, have handed out 20 new tractors to farming co-operatives in the Nad-e-Ali region of Helmand Province.

Delighted local farmers were presented with keys to tractors, thresher machines and ploughing equipment by District Governor Habibullah at a ribbon cutting ceremony.

Each of the farming co-operatives consisted of at least 35 farmers who had been asked to work up and present a business plan. To qualify for the equipment, the co-operatives had to show that they were willing to stop sowing poppy crops and focus their production on wheat farming.

Captain Nick Carter, Influence Officer with the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment said: “The International Relief and Development Agency has been helping bring together co-operatives of farmers. How much land these farmers actually own will entitle them to certain farming equipment. So what we have today is a give-away of tractors, threshing machines and ploughs.”

The ceremony was attended by around 150 people from across the local area. Under ongoing aid programs, farmers have also received wheat seed, non-ammonium based fertiliser and growing kits containing onions, tomatoes and fruit seeds. The kits enable farmers from across the region to continue to grow produce throughout the year once the wheat season is over. In total, each farmer involved in the program has received approximately $1000 of aid to help re-build the economy in the once prosperous farming region.

Captain Carter comments: “This program is helping to develop the farming community. This particular area of Nad-e-Ali used to be very wealthy and it still can be. By having modern equipment, the farmers are able to go back into the commercial market and sell their produce for a good price, while also helping them move away from the poppy.”

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


The last leg of David Beckham’s visit to Afghanistan saw a night time arrival into Kandahar Airfield. Less than 12 hours before, insurgents were still active in the area. The base had been subject to a sustained ground attack involving an insurgent gang who had released mortars and small arms fire on the northern perimeter.

David had been made aware of the attack whilst in Bastion and had been relieved to know that there had been no coalition fatalities. He was keen to meet the II Sqn RAF Regiment gunners who had been in the thick of the fighting. “I think you guys have done an amazing thing” he said, as Sgt Jamie Thorpe explained A Flt’s involvement in repelling the attack.

Jamie said “We were part of the Quick Reaction Force and we just responded as any other job. We were aware of the amount of support we had from all the nations and we just played our part”. His part, as he modestly says, was to take the fight to the insurgents outside the perimeter fence and also foil a potential attack from the south of the airfield.

David then spent time with members of A Flt chatting about what it’s like to be away from your family when on operations and saying how much Brooklyn has been very interested in what his dad would be doing. It is a question that many of A Flt had been asked themselves by their children. Conversation then inevitably turned to football, with the Regiment inviting David to take part in a 5-aside match. David smiled and said time and injury had currently got the better of him at this moment in time but thanked them kindly for their offer.

Summing up his visit to Afghanistan David told the Regiment gunners that “the whole experience here has been unbelievable. It really has opened my mind to what Afghanistan is like and the great job our troops do”.

Afghan Rehearsal Extends to Front Line

A wealth of refinements to the Operational Training and Advisory Group (OPTAG) package has been paying dividends as troops limber up for demanding deployments in Afghanistan, the new Commander of the organisation has said.

In an exclusive interview with, Col Rob Thomson revealed that soldiers heading to theatre are being continually prepared – and are honing their skills in Camp Bastion just days before they head out for duty.

And before they arrive, they are receiving up-to-the-minute briefs on developments in Afghanistan, including evolving threats and changes to the mission dynamic, as well as taking part in manoeuvres in ultra-realistic environments.

“Over the last couple of years we have taken a quantum step forward in what we do,” said Thomson. “We have excellent support from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in training so soldiers have never been better prepared.

“Our exercise serials also now take place in some very life-like areas, where we have recreated the look of compounds and forward operating bases the soldiers are going to encounter while they are in theatre,” he added. “In particular, the STANTA training area in Norfolk is very well equipped.”

A veteran infantryman Thomson, who recently replaced Col Richard Westley as Commander OPTAG, certainly has the credentials to lead the organisation. A former CO of the 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, he commanded the NATO Operational Reserve Force in Kosovo in 2008 and last year led troops on one of most ferocious Op Herrick tours yet seen.

For Thomson, however, the learning curve in theatre over the last few years has ultimately led to an OPTAG process that has been instrumental in saving lives. And continuing the training process as troops acclimatise to active theatre conditions is now firmly embedded as part of the initiative.

“When you arrive in Afghanistan, you go through the Camp Bastion Training Centre which really gives you the full fat package before you head out,” he said. “You are given the opportunity to go through your skills and drills one more time and you’re assisted by people who have operational experience.

“This is a key part of the training we have introduced and, in a very short space of time, the centre has grown in terms of the numbers of people working there as well as facilities. Whereas it started out as a package that only lasted between two and five days, we are now running it out to nine where required.”

With the IED a proven killer of British troops, there is significant focus on awareness and detection drills, as well as lanes where troops can rehearse the disciplines. The package builds on drills already honed in training in the UK.

In addition to the growth of the training facilities at Bastion, Thomson pointed out that OPTAG was also continuing to expand in operational acumen and manpower. Those selected for service with the group need a mix of experience in theatre and the ability to impart their knowledge to others.

“We also need to be finely tuned to any changes in theatre because, if there are, we need to be able to replicate them accurately in the training world,” said Thomson. “Out in Afghanistan we are adjusting our tactics, technology and equipment all the time and it is important we maintain our agility.”

Keeping one step ahead of the enemy is certainly vital to success. With the Taliban continuing to deploy reckless tactics that target soldiers and civilians, soldiers must be equipped to fight the insurgents on their own territory.

The OPTAG package provides the means to remain flexible. By keeping incoming brigades aware of what is going on in theatre before they deploy, and finishing off training in a live environment, lives are undoubtedly being saved.

Pictures: Cpl Barry Lloyd RLC

Monday, May 24, 2010


Upgraded Army Lynx Mk9A helicopters have been sent from the UK and taken to the Afghan skies, the MoD announced today.

The Lynx Mk9As, with their increased firepower, more powerful engines and the ability to operate all year in the harsh hot and high Afghan environment have increased the total number of flying hours available to commanders.

New MoD pictures show the stripped down helicopters being transported by C-17 Globemaster aircraft from RAF Brize Norton to Camp Bastion in Afghanistan. There, the rotor blades were fitted and familiarisation flights took place before operational sorties began in earnest earlier this month.

The Lynx Mk9A is fitted with a more advanced communication system, improved surveillance equipment and the M3M Machine Gun - a 0.50” calibre weapon, capable of firing over 850 rounds a minute.

The new helicopters are already performing a wide range of frontline tasks, including convoy overwatch, support helicopter escort, reconnaissance and surveillance and the movement of forces.

Major Max Lytle Army Air Corps, Officer Commanding 672 Squadron, said:

“We are now in Afghanistan, playing an important role in protecting our ground forces and carrying out surveillance, boosting performance in Afghanistan’s challenging conditions.”

The upgraded Lynx joins the other aircraft in Joint Helicopter Force (Afghanistan), commanded from Camp Bastion. This Force comprises helicopters from all three Services operating to support the multi-national coalition effort, including Chinooks, Merlins, Apaches and Sea Kings.

The Commanding Officer JHF(A), Wing Commander ‘Spats’ Paterson RAF said:

“I am delighted to see these highly capable aircraft arrive in theatre. They are an extremely valuable addition to the UK helicopter force and the modifications they carry make them an extremely effective platform.”

Army aircrews undertook extensive pre-deployment flight training on the new aircraft in Kenya to gain flying experience in similar hot and high conditions before the start of their first operational tour in the Lynx Mk9A.

Secretary of State for Defence visits troops in Helmand Province

Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, visited troops in Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province today in his first visit since taking up his Cabinet post. He was joined by Foreign Secretary William Hague, International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell and Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup.

Right Honorable (Rt Hon) William Hague Member of Parliament (MP), The Foreign Secretary, the Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP, The Secretary of State for Defence, the Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell MP, the Secretary of State for International Development

The visitors were briefed by Brigadier Richard Felton, the Commander of Task Force Helmand and by Lindy Cameron, the head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team before meeting service personnel based in Lashkar Gah.

Captain Stuart Thomas of 204 Signal Squadron said: “It’s a great show of support for the three ministers to come out so shortly after the election and it was great to hear them speak passionately about our achievements in Afghanistan. Liam Fox was keen to find out what life is like for us here and our relationship with the Afghan Security Forces, which is improving all the time”.

All three Ministers then addressed the assembled service and civilian personnel and praised their courage and dedication to the mission in Afghanistan.

Liam Fox said: "I will give you my promise that we will do everything we can to ensure that whatever you are asked to do, you are properly, fully equipped to do so, to maximise your chance of success and minimise the risk to you."
Mr Hague paid tribute to the progress which has been made in Helmand saying he was "full of admiration” for the work being done.

He said: "It's very encouraging for all of us who have been here 18 months or two years ago to see the enormous progress that's been made thanks to your incredible hard work. The difference over that period, the difference in governance, the difference in freedom of movement, the difference in protecting communities, is colossal. And a lot of that progress has been made in the last few months. We want to thank you for all that hard work."

Chief of the Defence Staff Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup

Many soldiers were keen to know about the promised doubling of operational bonuses. The Defence Secretary announced that after discussions with the Treasury, the new Government will be sticking to the pledge and details of the increase will be announced in next month’s budget.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

First British Female Soldiers Complete the United States Marine Corps Female Engagement Team Course

Two British female soldiers in Helmand have completed the United States Marine Corps’ Female Engagement Team Course in Camp Leatherneck in Helmand Province.

Army administrator, Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (22), from Peasedown St John in Somerset and Army medic, Lance Corporal Nicola Murray (27), from Stretford, Manchester, both serving with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland in Helmand Province, have become the first British soldiers to have attended the 9-day Female Engagement Team (FET) Course which was held at the United States Marine Corps (USMC) base, Camp Leatherneck near Camp Bastion.

Lance Corporal Jennifer Garraway (Left), Lance Corporal Murray (Right)

The all-female course focuses on interaction with the local Afghan female population, fostering relationships and gaining the trust and support of Afghans whilst patrolling with infantry soldiers. The British Soldiers were fully embedded; working, living and eating with 50 female Marines from across Helmand Province.

The course is culturally important to operations in Afghanistan as Afghan woman are not allowed to be greeted or spoken to by males outside their family, therefore male members of the military are unable to access approximately 51 percent of the Afghan population.

Lance Corporal Garraway said: “Afghan women have a significant influence on their families and communities, and their influence is often reflected in the behavior of their children and husbands”.

The course consisted of patrolling skills, radio procedures, medical training, ranges, physical training and martial arts. Lance Corporal Garraway, a Combat HR Administrator from the Adjutant General’s Corps and Lance Corporal Murray, a Combat Medical Technician from the Royal Army Medical Corps, joined only 28 female Marines at the graduation ceremony as not all students made it through the grueling 9-day course.

Both soldiers will now form a FET within a newly formed infantry rifle company from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, in a ground holding role in Combined Force Nad-e Ali in Helmand over the next four months.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Corporal Stephen Walker killed in Afghanistan

It is with regret that the Ministry of Defence must announce that Corporal Stephen Walker from 40 Commando Royal Marines, serving as part of Combined Force Sangin, was killed in Afghanistan, yesterday, Friday 21 May 2010.

Corporal Walker was killed in an explosion that happened near Patrol Base Almas, in Sangin, Helmand province. He was conducting a joint foot patrol with the Afghan National Army to reassure and improve the security for the local population in the area when the incident took place.

Corporal Stephen Walker was born in Lisburn, Northern Ireland on 5 April 1968. He lived in Exmouth with his wife Leona and their daughter Greer; and was also a proud father to his son Samuel.

He originally joined the Royal Navy on 19 May 1986, qualifying as a cook and serving at HMS Raleigh, HMS Cochrane and on board HMS Cleopatra.

He subsequently transferred to the Royal Marines, entering Recruit Training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines on 12 March 1990, passing for duty on 7 November 1990. During his 20 year career he served across the broad spectrum of Royal Marine Units including; Fleet Protection Group Royal Marines, 40 and 45 Commando Royal Marines and the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines as a Recruit Troop Instructor.

He had a widespread background of instructional expertise in areas such as Mortars, Platoon Weapons and Jungle Warfare. He also had considerable operational experience in theatres such as Northern Ireland, Southern Turkey and Northern Iraq and, most recently, Afghanistan. In 2005, he excelled in his Junior Command Training at the Commando Training Centre Royal Marines, placing in the top three students on his course.

This much deserved promotion gave him the opportunity to pass on his wealth of knowledge and experience to his young marines, something for which he felt extremely passionate about.

Joining 40 Commando Royal Marines in July 2009, he immediately conducted Mission Specific Training for deployment to Afghanistan.

In April 2010, he deployed with Alpha Company, 40 Commando to Op HERRICK 12, employed as a Section Commander based out of Patrol Base ALMAS. His Company had been responsible for providing security, thereby increasing their freedom of movement, to the people of Sangin during his time in Afghanistan.

On the morning of Friday 21 May 2010, Alpha Company was conducting a reassurance patrol, alongside the Afghanistan National Army, near Patrol Base ALMAS. At approximately 0850 hours local, north of the Patrol Base an explosion occurred. Tragically Cpl Walker was killed in action as a result of the blast.

Corporal Walker's wife Leona said:

"Steve was passionate, loyal and determined. He enjoyed the role he had in the Marines but he was a family man at heart. He was a fantastic Dad to Greer and he was the perfect soul mate to me. Although this is a very sad time, Steve would want us to be positive. Remember the good times, the happy times.

"A lot of people's lives will be deeply affected by Steve's all-to-early departure. Life goes on, but it will never be the same for us."

Lieutenant Colonel Paul James, Commanding Officer 40 Commando Group, Combined Force Sangin said:

"Corporal Stephen 'Whisky' Walker, an ex-navy chef turned Royal Marine Commando, was one of the most professionally astute men I have ever met. Brave, loyal, utterly dedicated and absolutely selfless, he died leading his section on patrol in southern Sangin. Having served twenty years in the Royal Marines, he was my most experienced and probably my best Corporal. I valued his counsel greatly and despite being his Commanding Officer, he taught me tactics.

"I often joined his section during our pre-deployment training. He was a natural leader who cared passionately for his men; he trained, he operated, he lived and he died at the front. He is a man who will be sorely missed by everyone in 40 Commando. Our thoughts and prayers are with his wife Leona, daughter Greer, son Samuel, his family and friends. Corporal 'Whisky' Walker was, and will always be, the consummate Commando."

David Beckham meets troops in Helmand

English football star David Beckham arrived last night at Camp Bastion, the main British base in Afghanistan, for a goodwill visit to meet British and US Armed Forces.

David Beckham signs autographs for soldiers from 67 Squadron, 6 Regiment RLC during his visit to Camp Bastion

He accompanied troops on a routine flight from RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire early yesterday morning, making a stop over in the UAE before heading for Helmand Province, Afghanistan, where around 9000 British troops are based.

The 35 year old England footballer, who is missing playing in the World Cup in South Africa because of an Achilles injury, is meeting hundreds of British and US troops during the morale-boosting visit.

He is also drumming up support for England in the World Cup and for the country’s Bid for 2018 World Cup. Only a week ago he handed in England's official book at Fifa HQ in Zurich.

Father of three, Beckham, who now plays for AC Milan and Los Angeles Galaxy, has been a major supporter of Britain's Armed Forces and various military charities including Help for Heroes.

Beckham said:

"I have nothing but admiration for these young men and women and it makes me very proud to be British.

"I've wanted to visit Afghanistan for a long time and I hope that in some small way it helps remind everyone at home what an amazing job they are doing out here in very difficult conditions. I feel very humble."

David Beckham is shown weapons in Camp Bastion

Beckham had breakfast in the cookhouse today before taking part in a question and answer session with troops and visiting the camp's hospital.

Squadron Leader Sarah Charters, who runs the emergency unit at the hospital, told him about the work they do. She said:

"A visit like this means a lot to everyone here. It is an absolute honour to work in an environment like this where I know I am contributing to help save lives and David's visit reminds everyone at home of what we actually do here."

Beckham said:

"You know I've been here just one night so far and the experience has been even more than I could have ever hoped.

"To see the morale of the troops is really incredible. It first kind of hit me on the way over when we were on the military plane flying in to Afghanistan.

"You can see the faces, you can see obviously they know they are leaving their families, but they're so focused and they've got this look in their eyes that they're just so confident and just ready. That really is an unbelievable sight to see, and you feel it as well."

David Beckham with troops from the UK Role 3 Hospital, during his visit to Camp Bastion

Beckham also received a lesson in weapon handling from Craftsman Bob Floy, from Doncaster, who showed him how to use different weapons including a heavy machine gun.

He also visited 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles and took part in a penalty challenge with them, and scored with his only attempt.

He added:

"Just yesterday one of the troops was killed, and you feel it and you see the flags at half-mast and you feel the tension there. It really is, like I said, amazing to be around but you feel the love from everybody.

"It just really is scary work. These guys are the bravest people that I've ever met and it really is, it truly is, an honour to be here."

The visit was organised by the Forces entertainment charity Combined Services Entertainment (CSE) which is dedicated to providing live entertainment and morale boosting visits to British troops on operations and is part of the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS).

Pictures: Corporal Barry Lloyd RLC

UK Secretaries of State visit Afghanistan

The Secretaries of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, Defence, and International Development are today visiting Afghanistan.

From left Defence Secretary Liam Fox, Foreign Secretary William Hague and International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell talking during the flight to Kabul, Afghanistan

They will meet President Karzai, relevant Ministers and senior officials, in order to gain a better understanding of the situation in Afghanistan, of the options going forward, and of the further work needing to be done.

They will also meet British troops, civilian staff, and visit a British funded development project.

The international effort to bring about a more stable and secure Afghanistan is vital to UK national security. That is why the UK Government's most urgent overseas priority is to focus on the strategy for Afghanistan, and why a tripartite visit has been organised so quickly.

The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, said:

"Our most urgent priority is to get to grips with the situation in Afghanistan. It will consume a lot of our time, energy and effort and it is therefore vital that Ministers have a strong understanding of the issues.

"We need to give the strategy time and support to succeed, and we are here in Afghanistan to explore this at the earliest opportunity."

General Stanley McChrystal, Commander of ISAF meets (from left) William Hague, Liam Fox and Andrew Mitchell at ISAF HQ in Kabul, Afghanistan

The Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox said:

"I am delighted to be making my first visit to Afghanistan since being appointed Secretary of State for Defence, seeing for myself the situation on the ground with regard to UK forces and meeting senior military commanders and Afghan Ministerial counterparts.

"I am very much looking forward to meeting UK servicemen and women whose bravery, dedication, professionalism and very real sacrifice is playing an absolutely vital role in protecting the UK’s national security – the reason we are in Afghanistan."

The International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, said:

"Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. There are few countries where the combination of our moral commitment to development and safeguarding our national interest is so enmeshed.

"Building the capacity of the state to guarantee security and stability, deliver development and reduce poverty is central to defeating violent extremism and protecting British streets. Looking at ways to improve the quality and impact of our aid will be a key part of this visit."

Pictures: Lewis Whyld/PA Wire

Command and control changes in southern Afghanistan

Changes to the command and control of ISAF forces in southern Afghanistan, that will see the current Regional Command (South) split in two to better reflect the significant changes on the ground in recent months, have been announced today.

The announcement from ISAF, the International Security Assistance Force, confirms that the present Regional Command (South) will be split into two new headquarters.

A new Regional Command (South West), based in Helmand, will oversee Helmand and Nimruz provinces; while the existing Regional Command (South), headquartered in Kandahar, will continue to control ISAF forces in Kandahar, Daykundi, Uruzgan and Zabul provinces.

This change, which is based on the military advice of ISAF commanders on the ground, reflects a number of significant changes over recent months and was welcomed today by the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox.

The recent changes on the ground include a large increase in the number of ISAF troops in southern Afghanistan - up from 35,000 in October 2009 to over 50,000 by this summer - and a greater complexity in the conduct of operations, with major ongoing security efforts in Kandahar and central Helmand.

The new command structure will also enable a better alignment with Afghan National Army units, with 205 Corps continuing to work with Regional Command (South) [RC(S)] and 215 Corps partnered with the new Regional Command (South West).

The decision to divide responsibility between the two headquarters will help provide the best focus of command support for ISAF forces across the region.

Secretary of State for Defence, Dr Liam Fox, said:

"I welcome these changes to the command and control of our forces in Afghanistan which are based on sound military rationale and are in the interests of the overall coalition strategy and mission.

"Through their sheer professionalism, bravery and sacrifice, British forces have made real progress in Helmand. They will continue to do so working alongside Afghan, American and other ISAF partners making up an international effort of more than 45 nations."

Major General Gordon Messenger, the Chief of the Defence Staff's Strategic Communications Officer, said:

"This command and control change makes complete sense and is welcome. The span and complexity of the command challenge in southern Afghanistan has increased enormously in recent months and these changes provide the best command support to the troops on the ground.

"The change will also align the ISAF military structure in the south with the structure of the Afghan National Army, enabling a greater partnering capacity between ISAF and Afghan forces.

"The UK has been closely involved in the preparations for this change and entirely agrees with its rationale. We are well accustomed to operating within a multinational coalition command structure and are entirely content that the best interests of the UK force will be maintained under the new arrangements."

Looking to the future, Regional Command (South West) will operate under a rotational command, agreed in principle to be shared between US and UK forces. The first commander will be Major General Richard Mills of the US Marine Corps (USMC).

British troops talking with Afghan locals during a patrol through the village of Gorup-e Shesh Kalay

As part of the new arrangements, command and control boundaries will change within Helmand province.

Following the split, Task Force Helmand (TFH) will come under the command of the US Marine Corps' 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (1 MEF), under Major General Mills. TFH will retain responsibility for central Helmand.

Major General Richard Mills, Commanding General of 1st Marine Expeditionary Force (Forward), said:

"Regional Command (South West) will ensure that ISAF and Afghan forces in Helmand and Nimruz provinces achieve the objectives of Operation MOSHTARAK, which are intended to assert the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan's presence in the region.

"Since taking command six weeks ago I have been hugely impressed by the momentum and achievements of RC(S) under General Carter.

"My predecessors in the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade and the British troops of Task Force Helmand have distinguished themselves in the service of the Afghan people. Real progress is being made.

"This will be the first time that the USMC has led an ISAF Regional Command. The British officers in my coalition headquarters and Task Force Helmand bring invaluable experience and knowledge. We are partnered with ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] at all levels and conducting joint operations throughout Helmand province.

"While tough fighting remains, I see evidence daily of progress that will bring about lasting stability across southern Afghanistan.

"This will be a significant year for the future of Afghanistan. Coalition forces, alongside our Afghan counterparts, will continue to support the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan as it delivers legitimate governance, improved security and lasting economic development."

Additionally, under the changes, the command of the 1,100-strong British Battle Group based in Sangin and Kajaki will transfer from Task Force Helmand to the US-led Regimental Combat Team (North), which is taking on responsibility for the north of the province.

In common with the other changes to ISAF's command structures, this transfer of command will take effect on 1 June 2010 and is intended to optimise the command support available to the troops on the ground in light of the increased number of ISAF troops and other operational assets.

ISAF intends for Regional Command (South West) to become fully operational later this summer. In order to ease the transition, there will be an interim phase where 1 MEF will take responsibility for Helmand and Nimruz but will continue to work to Regional Command (South). This arrangement is planned to run from 1 June.

The UK-led Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand will work closely with the headquarters of Regional Command (South West) and will continue its vital role in delivering governance and socio-economic development in the province.

UK forces are committed to their enduring deployment to central Helmand and there are no plans to deploy UK forces from Helmand to anywhere else.

Friday, May 21, 2010

GOVERNANCE: facilitating commerce within the Sangin Bazaar

A deliberate plan has been put into place to facilitate commerce within the Sangin Area of Operations.

Business as usual: Store Holders in the Sangin Bazaar

This further promotion of Afghan governance will be achieved through comprehensive partnering at all levels and on all activities. 40 Commando Group (CF SGN) will assist the ANSF and local nationals to create an ever-expanding security bubble. The expectation is for local nationals to become increasingly reliant on these secure areas for income generation.

A result of the increased security will be an overall increase in the quality of life of the people of Sangin as well as a reduction in poverty and increased stability. The Unit is committed to these elementary stages of creating a positive spiral of progression.

As the process matures, the Afghans themselves will become stakeholders and will want to protect their financial and emotional investment against the insurgents who threaten to jeopardise it.

An Afghan child offers a salute to the UK troops in Sangin

Analysis of the Sangin bazaar and distances travelled by stallholders and customers alike provides an immediate visible measure of success or failure. Over time, the analysis of the infrastructure, reconstruction and building works will give a true reflection of sustainable success in growth and development. The current, in-house, analysis demonstrates traders travelling increasingly greater distances to get to the Sangin Bazaar.


British troops in Afghanistan are sporting a new look this spring as their uniform changes for the first time in over 40 years.

The new Multi Terrain Pattern camouflage has been designed to work across the range of terrains to reflect the diverse landscape that our troops encounter on patrol in Helmand Province. This is part of MOD’s ongoing programme of work to provide the best possible equipment and support to the front line.

Soldiers that deployed to Afghanistan in April, including members of the Royal Dragoon Guards, were the first to be issued with the new uniform. It will be issued to all military personnel by 2012.

Sergeant Luke Cunningham of the Royal Dragoon Guards said:

“I was in Afghanistan 2008 and so I have worn both Combat 95 and Multi-Terrain Pattern camouflage on operations. The new camo is definitely better for the conditions we face in the Green Zone of Helmand. It’s more comfortable and it is superior in terms of the operations we’re undertaking.”

The new camouflage was trialled in laboratory tests and field evaluations. This included aerial and scientific photography to provide the right colours and brightness to make the new camouflage pattern. Computer modelling was used to represent the Green Zone, deserts and mixed environments in Afghanistan.

Colonel Stephen James, Project Team Leader for Defence Equipment and Support Clothing Team, who was responsible for delivering the new pattern to operations, said:

“This is the first time since 1968 that we have introduced a new pattern to UK Forces. We have presented the new designs to the US Department of Defense and following our recommendations, the US Army are about to adopt the same technology for their uniform in Afghanistan.”

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reaching the people and talking to them directly

In the pursuit of bolstering Governance, 40 Commando Group (CF SGN) has embraced a request from the Sangin District Governor to provide and distribute ‘wind-up’ or rechargeable radios.

Coordinating with the stability advisor and support team, they have started distributing 500 radios with a further 1500 en route to Sangin.

A Royal Marine Commando demonstrates how the radios work to the local children

Whilst still in its embryonic phase, this trial will potentially have a direct impact on extending the foundations of good governance and economic development. Once distribution is complete, the DG will be able to communicate directly to the community leaders. Local leaders are effective message conduits and will cascade the DG’s words down to their people in and around Sangin. A robust communications network will enable the BG to announce exact taxes and who to pay them to. Presently, people are being overtaxed due to corruption and insurgents posing as officials. This is a major grievance of the population and a barrier against them overtly supporting the government.

While it is accepted that there are some initial limitations to the trial, these will be addressed if the trial is a success. Limitations include low numbers of radios and the range of the radio infrastructure.

Successful distribution will be directly attributable to the identification and engagement of key local leaders. Over the next few weeks, this is where the extensive knowledge of the local area, built up by ground troops, will pay dividends.

RAF's Reaper logs 10,000 hours over Afghanistan

This article was first published in RAF News, Voice of the Royal Air Force, on 7 May 2010.

The RAF's Reaper programme has achieved the milestone of providing more than 10,000 hours of armed overwatch in support of UK and coalition forces in Afghanistan

The UK Reaper Remotely Piloted Air System (RPAS) has been deployed to Afghanistan since October 2007 and provides a persistent, armed intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capability.

Since November 2009, Reaper has been supporting operations 24-hours-a-day and more Reaper Remotely Piloted Aircraft are planned to be delivered later this year.

The RPAS is an integral part of the UK's air power capability. Procured to meet an urgent operational requirement, Reaper is the only RPAS currently in service with the RAF.

Air Vice-Marshal Baz North, Assistant Chief of the Air Staff, said:

"10,000 hours in direct support of operations is a significant milestone. Our experience of operating RPAS has confirmed that they have unique capabilities that complement those of traditional combat and ISR platforms; maximum effect is achieved by employing them in a mixed grouping.

"This network-enabled force has delivered a comprehensive combat ISTAR [Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance] capability that provides assured intelligence and situational awareness across the full range of operating environments, through the employment and integration of air, space and cyber systems."

Reaper is flown by 39 Squadron via satellite from a UK operations facility at Creech Air Force Base in the Nevada desert, and provides a range of ISR products to troops on the ground and operational headquarters.

Its primary role is ISR but from May 2008 the system has been armed with Hellfire missiles and laser-guided bombs to enable it to better meet the requirements of ground commanders.

The rules of engagement used for Reaper weapon releases are no different to those used for manned combat aircraft; the weapons are all precision-guided, and every effort is made to ensure the risk of collateral damage and civilian casualties is minimised, including deciding not to release a weapon."

A Royal Air Force 39 Squadron Reaper is unloaded of its offensive weapons at Kandahar Airfield after completing another mission over Afghanistan.

Wing Commander Jules Ball, Officer Commanding 39 Squadron, said:

"The squadron's personnel, from pilots to imagery analysts and support teams, are motivated and dedicated to supporting all our coalition forces and the people of Afghanistan; everyone has played a significant part in the delivery of this landmark achievement. It's absolutely clear that the Reaper plays a vital role in delivering Air's contribution to operations in Afghanistan.

"Our involvement has increased steadily since the MQ-9 Reaper's introduction into the RAF inventory. In fact, in the last 12 months alone, 39 Squadron has more than doubled its operational flying output.

"By supporting coalition forces every minute of every day, there's no doubt that this cutting-edge capability is saving lives and making a difference to those in danger in Afghanistan."

Pictures: Antony Loveless & Corporal Steve Bain RAF

ANA raids capture eight suspected insurgents

In an impressive display of military professionalism, Afghan National Army (ANA) Soldiers from the 2-3-215 Kandak recently planned and executed two highly successful raids in the Sangin Valley. In total eight suspected Taliban insurgents were captured. Military intelligence indicated the insurgents were working for the lead Taliban insurgent coordinator in Sangin’s southern green zone area.

As part of the 40 Commando Battle Group, the Brigade Advisory Group from the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots) are working closely with the Kandak.

The group’s second-in-command, Captain Ruaraidh Stewart said: “This is one of the strongest operations we [the Advisor Group] have seen the Kandak plan and conduct.”

He was quick to point out that there was no requirement for the 1 Scots Advisory Group to participate in either of the arrest operations. He said: “Our presence was purely for back up, which was not needed,” said Capt Stewart.

A number of potential locations were watched closely before the ANA launched the first, quickly planned, snatch operation. This decisive action enabled the ANA to capture three important figures without incident.

The second operation was a meticulously planned morning raid. At 0200, with no light and no sound, the ANA surrounded a compound. The insurgents were taken completely by surprise, unaware that they had been targeted. While there was an ISAF search dog and members from the 1 Scots Advisory Group on location as back-up, there was no requirement for them to even enter the building.

Captain Stewart said: “The ANA had the situation well under control on their own. This operation led to five insurgents being successfully arrested and detained. This second arrest operation was authorized after an enormous IED had exploded in the northern Sangin Wadi (river), potentially endangering the lives of local nationals and the ANA.”

The ANA Soldiers from the 2-3-215 Kandak, are under the Command of Col Wadood, who authorised the insurgents to be detained and arranged for their onward transportation to Shorabak, the ANA 215 Corps Head Quarters. From here the detainees will be taken to Lashkar Gah for trial under the Afghan judicial system.

Pictures: LA(PHOT) Si Ethell