Saturday, July 31, 2010

British Forces find IED cache during Op TOR SHEZADA in Nad-e-Ali

Soldiers serving with Somme Company, the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment continued to clear compounds in Taliban held villages in the vicinity of Sayedebad, central Helmand in the early hours of this morning. The move resulted in a large find of Improvised Explosive Device (IED) components and bomb making equipment.

Troops from Somme Company, who have taken over compounds in the region of the Taliban stronghold of Sayedebad, moved from their location under the cover of darkness to a small village on the outskirts of Sayedebad. As dawn approached, the troops, working alongside Afghan security forces began searching and clearing buildings.

Improvised Explosive Device (IED) components found inside an IED factory by Somme Company and the Counter IED task force.

Captain Brad Pino, 13 Platoon Commander said, “We left at first light this morning to push round into an area we know that the insurgents have used before and previously there has been an IED factory. So we’ve pushed out to clear the kalay (village) just to see if there are any insurgents still in the area and to find out what the local nationals know and whether they’re happy that ISAF are here.”

He continues “It’s been really quiet. The locals seem quite on side and happy to see us. They’ve told us that the insurgents have been in the area recently, potentially there are still some insurgents in the area, and there are some IEDs in the area.”

Working on intelligence gained on the ground, the Royal Engineer Search Team (REST), moved in to search a suspected IED factory once the remaining buildings had been cleared by soldiers from 1 LANCS and their Afghan colleagues.

Lieutenant Amy Pennington from the Counter-IED Taskforce commented, “There was local intelligence that one of the compounds had been used as an IED factory. So my team was sent in to search that factory and we actually found component parts of IEDs.”

She continues, “Once we found the component parts of the IEDs, we removed them and then the main charges were dem-ed (demolished) in situ by the ATO (Ammunition Technical Officer).”

Explosives and IED components being destroyed by members of the Counter IED task force on day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA.

After spending nearly six hours on the ground the troops then extracted back to their patrol base to prepare for the next step in the operation.

Photos: Cpl Barry Lloyd RLC/MOD 2010

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UK Taliban Push Back ‘Making Good Progress’

By Tom Bonnett, Sky News Online

British and Afghan troops taking part in a major operation against Taliban insurgents are making good progress but “there is still a long way to go”.

Military chiefs said Operation Tor Shezada, which translates as “black prince” has started well as it entered its second day.

A soldier from 1 LANCS taking part in Operation Tor Shezada

The operation is being spearheaded by 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.
Their commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence, told Sky News: “It’s still very early on in the operation.

“The operation has gone as well as it possibly could do but there’s still a long way to go.
“Morale is very high indeed. The troops are eager to do the job they are paid to do.”
Hundreds of soldiers were dropped from Chinook helicopters under the cover of darkness yesterday.

They then moved in to clear compounds and establish patrol bases in the area.
Royal Engineers were later brought in to clear trees and scrubland around the compounds to give them more visibility.

UK troops and Afghan forces from 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, are clearing insurgents from Sayedebad to the south of Nad-e Ali.

Read the full story here

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VIDEO: UK Forces Embark on Op Tor Shezada

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Operation Tor Shezada – Latest Day 2 Imagery

Operation TOR SHEZADA meaning Black Prince in Pashtu, is being carried out by British and Afghan Forces in Central Helmand, Afghanistan. British troops from Combined Force Nad-e Ali (CF NDA) are clearing known insurgents from Sayedebad and increasing the security footprint in the region.

Lieutenant Colonel (Lt Col) Frazer Lawrence OBE, Commanding Officer (CO) The 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment is commander of CF NDA and led the operation.

Photos show members of Corunna Company and Commanding Officers’ Tactical Group during the clearance operations.

Photos: Cpl Gary Kendal RLC/MOD 2010

To see all images from Op Tor Shezada view our Flickr Stream here

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Brits And Afghans Fight To Clear Rebel Base

By Adam Arnold, Sky News Online

A new offensive involving hundreds of British and Afghan troops is taking place in southern Afghanistan to try to clear a Taliban stronghold.

Operation ‘Tor Shezada’ or ‘Black Prince’ is being led by the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster Regiment and got off to a “successful” start, military chiefs said.

UK soldiers along with Afghan forces from 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, are trying to clear an area from Sayedebad to the south of Nad-e-Ali.

The assault is taking place on suspected rebel compounds and is expected to take several days.
The offensive continues the momentum gathered by Operation Mostarak earlier this year, the Ministry of Defence said.

Although significantly smaller than previous offensives in this area, Operation Tor Shezada will push insurgents further from the populated centres successfully cleared by Moshtarak.
Sky’s Stuart Ramsay is embedded with the troops.

He said: “Soldiers have been fanning out and moving south from a variety of camps they have in this part of Helmand Province.

“The idea is to try to pressurise the areas that the Taliban have been controlling for some time.”

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Friday, July 30, 2010

UK and Afghan soldiers move into compounds in the Sayedebad area of Nad-e Ali as part of Op TOR SHEZADA

Somme Company of 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (1LANCS) successfully performed an aerial insertion from a Chinook helicopter in the early hours of 30th July 2010 under a cover of darkness.

They are now within Sayedebad, as part of Operation Tor Shezada which is pushing insurgent fighters further from the population centres. This increased security will enable the Afghan Government to extend its reach to the local population.

Photos from Op Tor Shezada
Cpl Barry Lloyd RLC/MOD 2010

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British and Afghan forces launch Operation Tor Shezada (Black Prince) in Central Helmand

British and Afghan troops preparing for the operation

British forces led by 1st Battalion, The Duke Of Lancaster’s Regiment this morning launched an operation to further squeeze insurgents in Central Helmand.

Operation Tor Shezada – Black Prince – has been planned and is being executed by ISAF forces working hand-in-hand with their Afghan counterparts. British troops will partner Afghan forces from 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps to clear insurgents from Sayedebad to the south of Nad-e Ali in Helmand Province, in parallel to similar operations by the United States Marine Corps in Northern Marjah.

Troops talking to local children in Sayedebad.

Spokesman for Task Force Helmand, Lt Col James Carr-Smith, said:

“During the early hours of today, under the cover of darkness, the joint ISAF and Afghan Operation Tor Shezada (Black Prince) launched successfully. The operation is currently ongoing and reports back from the commanders on the ground say it is progressing according to plan.

“Operation Tor Shezada will continue the momentum generated by Operation Moshtarak earlier this year. Its aims are very much supported by local Afghans living in and around the area of Sayedebad. They are keen that insurgents be removed so that they can live, work and travel there safely.

“Our intent is such that this activity will increase the distance between the population and remaining insurgents - it will further dislocate insurgents and deny them a base from which to attack the Nad-e Ali and Marjah areas, making the local population safer and reducing the threat to ISAF and ANSF troops.

“In time, the operation will enable the Afghan Government to begin development projects in the area, including the planned refurbishment of Sayedebad school, health clinic and bazaar.”

The Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion, Duke of Lancaster's Regiment Battlegroup, Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence OBE, said:

“We have scored major successes in the north and centre of the district, driving out the insurgents from the major population areas, and providing security to the Afghan people. Now we need to make sure that security is extended to every resident of Nad-e Ali."

Sayedebad sits between Nad-e Ali and Marjah in central Helmand. The area has a small community of around 6,000 Afghans, mostly from Pashtun Ishaqzai and Hazara backgrounds. The Trikh Zabur canal runs to the south of the area, with a crossing point which allows movement between Nad-e Ali and Marjah. Improved security around this important crossing point will increase freedom of movement for locals.

Although significantly smaller than previous operations in this area, Operation Tor Shezada will push insurgent fighters further from the population centres successfully cleared by previous elements of Operation Moshtarak. It follows the same pattern of shape, clear, hold, build that has characterised the wider operation and shaping operations have been carried out in preparation for it.

The Afghan government will begin stabilisation activities as soon as conditions allow, including the refurbishment of Sayedebad school and health clinic. The British-run Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand will support this activity with projects of its own, including 'cash for work' programmes which employ locals to develop their own communities.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Prince honours Lynx crews for 'keeping the Taliban's heads down

His Royal Highness Prince Charles presented Afghan service medals this week to members of 1st Regiment Army Air Corps (1 Regt AAC) who have recently been operating Lynx helicopters over Helmand.

His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales (right) is greeted by the Commanding Officer of 1st Regiment Army Air Corps, Lieutenant Colonel James Anderson, on his arrival at Princess Royal Barracks in Gutersloh
[Picture: SSgt Ian Houlding RLC, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]

The Prince of Wales, who is the Colonel-in-Chief of the Army Air Corps, visited 1 Regt AAC at their base in Germany.

The Prince was greeted by 1 Regt AAC’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel James Anderson, after flying into the unit’s Princess Royal Barracks in Gutersloh on a Lynx helicopter.

During the medals parade Prince Charles also presented eight Long Service and Good Conduct Medals to soldiers, in recognition of their long service and exemplary conduct, as well as an Accumulated Campaign Service Medal. Flowers were also presented to their partners and families.

The unit, whose members most recently saw service in Afghanistan between September 2009 and March 2010 where they operated the Mark 7 Lynx helicopter, held a special families’ day to celebrate the parade which included bouncy castles, a climbing wall, a tug-of-war for children and a performance by the Band of the Corps of Royal Engineers.

To read the full story click here

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Canadian cowboy trains British soldiers to spot IEDs

The British Army has recruited a Canadian cowboy to teach soldiers how to look for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) hidden in the ground when deployed in Afghanistan.

The cowboy is professional tracker Terry Grant, aged 52, who is famed for his hit reality television show ‘Mantracker’ in which he tracks contestants over vast swathes of the Canadian wilderness.

Professional tracker Terry Grant with soldiers of 7th Armoured Brigade on the Canadian prairie
[Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

He has now been employed to pass on his unique ground sign awareness skills to the soldiers of 7th Armoured Brigade (the Desert Rats) who are set to deploy to Afghanistan next year.

The Desert Rats are currently training on Exercise Prairie Thunder 1 at the British Army Training Unit Suffield (BATUS) located in the heart of the vast plains of Alberta in the west of Canada.

To read the full article click here

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Tonga sends troops to Afghanistan

By Bonnie Malkin, The Telegraph

While most countries in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) are plotting an exit date from the war-ravaged country, the Tongan government has committed 275 of its soldiers over two years.

Tonga is made up of 169 islands, 39 of which are inhabited, sprinkled over the Pacific Ocean about one-third of the way from New Zealand to Hawaii. Photo: ALAMY

Ruling that Afghanistan was a safer destination for Tongan troops than Iraq, the government will send an initial 55 soldiers to Afghanistan in November. A further three rotations of 55 marines will form part of the guard at the main British base, Camp Bastion, in Helmand Province.

The move comes after Britain asked the Tongan government for assistance.
Under the deal, the British army will cover the cost of the deployment and Tongans will serve as part of the British Armed Forces.

Brigadier Tauaika ‘Uta’atu, the Tongan defence services commander, said Tonga had agreed because Afghanistan “looks safer than Iraq”.

“Our soldiers will not be doing street patrols where there have been a lot of deaths,” he said.
“This is an invitation from the British army who saw our soldiers work in Iraq and the then-prime minister Gordon Brown wrote to our prime minister and asked for support.

“This is something we think is an honour to be a part of.”

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Helping the Afghan Women

By Lieutenant Elaine Boyd Royal Navy

The pace just doesn’t let up out here and it definitely makes the 6-month tour go faster. I am currently living in MOB PRICE alongside the Danish Battlegroup. The accommodation is basic but at least I get a good nights sleep, unlike being onboard with the waves of the Irish Sea knocking me out of my bunk, and constant pipes for ‘big eats’ at the gangway!

The only pipes we hear in MOB PRICE are to inform us that personal communications with the UK are closed, and every time the pipe is made you feel immense sadness knowing the Taskforce has taken casualties. This week we have seen some real highs and some equal lows.

Lt Boyd undertaking her role as part of the Military Stabilisation and Support Team (MSST)

Somewhat unexpectedly the District Governor in Nahr-e Saraj changed over and I attended a “meet and greet” with the new incumbent, and the Battlegroup staff, to discuss the way ahead, and the Governors priorities for the area. Very quickly I found myself inspired (and a little star-struck as he is a hugely important individual in Afghan society) by the Governor, as he spoke passionately about the hopes he has for his district. I work for the District Stabilisation Team which works directly to support the District Governor so I am looking forward to an exciting new chapter under the new Governor’s leadership.

For the full article click here

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Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Sapper Mark Antony Smith killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Sapper Mark Antony Smith, from 36 Engineer Regiment, serving with the Counter-IED Task Force, was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, 26 July 2010.

Sapper Mark Smith, 36 Engineer Regiment
[Picture: via MOD]

On 26 July 2010 Sapper Smith and his Search team deployed in support of 40 Commando Royal Marines Battlegroup, Combined Force Sangin.

The team was conducting a Counter-Improvised Explosive Device clearance in order to enable a joint UK-Afghan operation to improve Afghan District and Provincial Government influence and security in the area around the Sangin District Centre.

A close friend has made the following statement on behalf of Sapper Antony Smith’s family:

“Mark Smith, fondly known by his friends as ‘Smit’ and Army colleagues as ‘Smudge’, was truly unique. His cheeky grin could light up a room and his zest for life was an inspiration to us all. His friendship and loyalty to those closest to him knew no bounds and I am truly honoured to have called him my friend.

“Smit will be greatly missed but it is difficult to think of him without smiling as he had a unique ability to lift anyone from the most sombre of moods and was always the life and soul of the party. He loved his Army life and his courage and bravery, all inspiring. Mark was a lovable rogue and the world will certainly be a sadder place without him.”

Whilst elements of the Counter-Improvised Device clearance team were moving into position, a smoke screen was requested to enable their movement.

As this was being undertaken, initial reports suggest that one of the smoke shells may have fallen short of its intended target, tragically killing Sapper Smith.

To read the full story click here

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Camp Bastion Hospital gains “Gold Standard” new facilities

Britain’s largest base in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, yesterday officially opened two state of the art CT scanners. They were launched by the Director General Army Medical Services, Major General Michael von Bertele QHS OBE L/RAMC, who said: “These scanners are the gold standard in trauma care. They allow the staff to accurately identify the injuries a patient has and then give them the right care as quickly as possible.”

The two new scanners and the new building which houses them form a contract worth £2.8m which was awarded to the contractors KBR in February as part of an Urgent Operational Requirement (UOR). The buildings are built to stringent NHS standards, including backup power, air conditioning and lighting. To have two of these machines dedicated to trauma care would be the envy of many NHS Hospitals.

The new 64-slice CT scanners in Camp Bastion Field Hosital

The scanners are General Electric 64-slice scanners, capable of over 10 times more detail than the existing equipment in only a fraction of the time. This means that casualties can be treated much faster. In addition, because there are two scanners, there is a natural redundancy should one go unserviceable due to the hostile environment that Afghanistan presents. The new scanners provide a more resilient capability that is more modern, reliable and better supported than that currently in service.

The scanners are used in a number of ways, from scans following head injuries to full vascular reviews following IED blasts. This allows the doctors to see any internal injuries prior to surgery. The greater definition provided by the new equipment will allow a much better and faster diagnosis of a patient than exists currently.

Surgeon Commander Richard Graham, a consultant radiologist, examines images from the new scanners

The hospital has two consultant radiologists who diagnose patients once the scans have taken place and five radiographers who run the machines. Surgeon Commander Richard Graham, a Royal Naval Reservist who usually works in Bath, is one of the radiologists. He explained the importance behind the new scanners: “These machines are a very important addition to the hospital which allow us to carry out much faster scans and reduce the time that a patient must wait before potentially life saving surgery. These scanners give us a much higher definition to work with and we can have a rough diagnosis within two minutes. Because this is the next generation of equipment the patient also receives a lower dose of radiation than previously and is therefore even safer to all involved.”

Photos: L/Cpl Bray USMC

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Driving The Situation Forward in Afghanistan

Captain Jeremy Hahn, The Royal Dragoon Guards writes about the international community in Kandahar and the inauguration of Gen David Petraeus.

When away from home, there are certain triggers that induce the longing to be in England in these summer months, and over the last few weeks these have been manifold; catching the sun-soaked snippets of Wimbledon, Not losing money backing French Raiders at Ascot, being sent photographs by friends. Apart from inducing the desire to be away from here, it also creates a fond reminiscence and a supplicant hopefulness that the days will soon pass ‘fore one’s return.

It has started to get really quite hot recently, about fifty degrees centigrade. The result of which is that the pounds are starting to slip off like an ill-fitting negligee on a Parisian woman of negotiable virtue when her rent is late.

We have had a busy couple of weeks in Kandahar city, both in terms of continuing to provide protection, security and freedom of movement for those members of the international community that need to move around the battle-space to help drive the situation forward, and also to a few different dramatis personae, we have had journalists from the BBC, ITV, The Sun, The Evening Standard et al. We have also had members of the US Treasury Department, and Department of Defence who have been meeting with Afghan Government officials in what appears to have been a very productive and promising set of engagements. Speaking to the American contingent during and afterwards, I am always struck by their optimistic and can-do attitude and their willingness to solve or overcome/overwhelm any problem that they encounter. As Evelyn Waugh said; ‘instead of this absurd division into sexes, they ought to class people as static and dynamic.’ The Americans, regardless of the wisdom of stereotype, fall into the latter class, and this, very definitely is, a good thing.

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Monday, July 26, 2010

1419 Flt - Wizards in Afghanistan's Green Zone

28 (Army Cooperation) Squadron B Flight arrived at Bastion Airfield in late May 2010. Following many detachments in Iraq over the past 5 years, this was their first taste of Afghanistan. They arrived with the bit between their teeth and were raring to get stuck into the new adventure ahead, albeit the crews were a little apprehensive given the environment which they found themselves in. Following the initial mandatory admin procedures and a very long day sitting on a hot rifle range, the aircrew from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire took to the skies and flew towards the green zone for the first time.

45 degree ambient temperatures mean that the cockpit and cabin of the aircraft is around 50 degrees. Add safety equipment, thermal fire protection, gloves and helmet and the result is some very hot and sweaty individuals. A great deal of water is consumed during any shift by the crews.

Loadmaster Sergeant Jock Forrester mans the general purpose machine gun (GPMG) on a Merlin helicopter.
Photo: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010

Landing sites in Helmnd Province vary dramatically between purpose-built, football pitch sized, tarmac areas to dust bowls; pilots regularly carry out the final stages of approaches almost blind. There are landing sites in the green zone with trees all around and there are landing sites on the pinnacles of mountains resulting in few hovering references for the handling pilots whilst operating at the limits of the aircrafts performance. All of the sites have their own challenges and the complexities encountered when landing within them cannot be understated or taken for granted at any time.

On the rare occasion that the Merlin can’t make it in to a landing site due to inclement weather or unserviceability then another helicopter and another crew will pick up the slack highlighting that the Joint Force Element which is operating in Helmand including RAF, Army and Navy works, and works incredibly well.

The Flight Engineers have worked 12 hour shifts every day since arriving in theatre. They have the unenviable task of trying to maintain the Merlin helicopters which are being flown in the most unforgivable of environments. The dust intake, the high altitude and the challenging flying puts a great strain on the Merlin, yet day after day the engineering force of 1419 Flt produce serviceable aircraft to operate with.

A Merlin lands at a FOB
Photo: Maj Paul Smyth/MOD

The squadron has had a detachment in Afghanistan fraught with the ‘expected’ unforeseen issues that arise during such a venture. They have worked every day in the heat and the dust and have achieved everything that they have been tasked with and more. The engineers have worked for 10 weeks without a whole day off. It is now time to go home, reunite with loved ones and enjoy some well deserved time off. As B Flight hand over to C Flight this week they reflect on a job well done.

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