Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Insurgents use the population as human shields

Soldiers from Fondouk Squadron, Queen's Royal Lancers, working alongside Afghan National Police bring security to the Bolan Desert in Helmand Province.

They were out reassuring the Afghan people that there is an alternative to the violence and intimidation demonstrated by the insurgents is absolutely vital to the mission in Afghanistan.

It was a joint operation from beginning to end. Jointly planned, co-ordinated and carried out with the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). This was to be the first operation for the ANCOP, recently arrived in Helmand from Kabul.

Key throughout the planning stages was the discussion of how to avoid civilian casualties. Colonel Hakkim, Commander of the ANCOP made clear where the responsibility lay: “Bullets can’t tell the difference between Insurgents and children, but you can and you pull the trigger.”

As the operation got underway everyone was alert as intelligence received earlier in the day had suggested that insurgents had seen the ANCOP and ISAF vehicles and were preparing to attack from all directions.

As Fondouk Squadron withdrew from the muddy local fields, empty after the harvest, one vehicle lost its tracks as it was forced off by the cloying mud.

“The Insurgents saw their opportunity and fired at the crew as we attempted to rectify the problem, mindless of the women and children close by. If the villagers needed any clearer indication of how little the Insurgents care for their wellbeing, this was it,” said Major Jim Walker, Officer Commanding Fondouk Squadron.

Fondouk Squadron instinctively moved forward to protect the villagers and recover the stricken vehicle. Squadron Sergeant Major Tony Gould pushed forward in a recovery vehicle, accompanied by the squadron medic, Lance Corporal Cheryl Fray. The medic checked that the villagers hadn’t suffered any injuries while Sergeant Major Gould assessed the situation and got the vehicle back on the road. Meanwhile, the remaining Scimitars of 3rd Troop moved forward to protect and secure the area.

“It was lively for a while, but the shooting soon stopped as the vehicles came forward. Luckily, there were no injuries to the local people.” said Lance Corporal Fray.

The Insurgents had by this time dropped their weapons and hidden among women and children in the compounds. With the vehicle repaired the Squadron moved back once more. But the danger had not passed. Again the Insurgents tried to engage, aiming small arms fire on the troops.

Lieutenant Jonny Clayton, supported by his Troop Sergeant Dave Chappell, moved towards the Insurgents to deter them from further attacks. It was this willingness to advance towards them that surprised and wrong footed them, with the shots soon dropping away.

Lieutenant Clayton said: “We saw them with their weapons retreat into compounds using children as their shields. We will not fire on them in that situation. Protecting the people is always at the front of our minds. But we moved closer so we could identify the compounds they were hiding in.”

Content that they had learned much from the villagers and shown strength against the insurgents, the Squadron moved back through the village.

Major Walker said: “This operation was an overwhelming success. It was our first joint operation with the ANCOP. We planned it together and carried it out together. Not only that, we were able to show the people there is an alternative to the insurgents’ intimidation of the weak, the young and the elderly. I hope they now understand that they have the power. The insurgents are afraid of the people - because united, they have the power to reject them.

Images: Cpl Gary Kendall

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