Capt Chandra Pun, 2IC D (Kandahar) Company
Afghanistan is a country at the crossroads between a number of historically important and large empires, including British, Russian, Persian, Indian and Chinese. Mountainous and in many areas largely inaccessible, it has developed its own unique culture without the influence of a central controlling authority. Pride, tradition and religion make for an explosive mix. It shares borders with Pakistan in the south and east, Iran in the west and the Central Asian States of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan in the north. A narrow strip of land in the extreme northeast leads to a short border with China. With an area of 647,500 square kilometres, it is slightly larger than Spain and Portugal combined. Most of Afghanistan is between 600 and 3,050 meters in elevation.
The attack on the World Trade Centre on 11 September 2001 killed 2,823 people from many countries including 67 Britons. The attack by Al Qaeda was the product of several years of planning and was in part co-ordinated from Taliban held areas of Afghanistan where Al Qaeda had established itself. The United States and its allies were left with little choice but to invade Afghanistan, with their intent being to destroy training camps and replace the Taliban regime that was supporting terrorism. The invasion was considered legitimate by the International Community as Al Qaeda had directly attacked the United States.
The US’s response was Operation Enduring Freedom, which began on 7 October 2001, with US and British aerial bombing of Taliban positions and known terrorist training camps. This weakened the Taliban, who were then, seemingly, defeated by the Northern Alliance. The US Military subsequently took control of much of the country and began the process of establishing a democratically elected government, starting with the Bonn Agreement in December 2001. Crucially though, the Taliban had not been completely defeated, and as a result the insurgency that we are facing today took hold and began to undermine the democratically elected government that had been installed.
It was this resistance to the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) that led to British forces being deployed, with their focus being on prosecuting a counter insurgency campaign in 6 key districts in Helmand Province, namely; Lashkar Gah, Gereshk, Sangin, Musa Qaleh, Now Zad and Garmsir. But in 2009 a coalition force uplift saw the US taking responsibility for the majority of Helmand province including Garmsir.
Op HERRICK 7 (Sep 07 – Apr 08) ‘Stay low, move fast’ was the motto used in HERRICK 7.
I deployed to Garmsir in Helmand province as 5 Platoon Commander B (Sari Bair) Company in the ground holding role. Although 1RGR deployed as Battle Group, we were attached to the Household Cavalry Regiment (HCR). We were based in FOB Delhi and manned two check points; JTAC HILL and BALACLAVA. Both Check Points were located at either end of a gravel road which was running from west to east. The gravel road acted as a borderline between the protected community to the North and an area known as “no-mans land” to the south and east. At that time we were able to engage anyone within our arcs under Rules of Engagement 429A, as these areas were used by insurgents only, to attack us or to smuggle arms and explosives into the protected community. It was a dangerous time with little respite from fighting – we even took over the check points from the Coldstream Guards under small arms fire contact. There was a high threat of accurate Small Arms Fire (SAF), IDF attack (107mm), RPG and a very low threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED) during that period. We didn’t concentrate on Counter Insurgency (COIN) at that time; we mainly focussed on holding ground and defeating a brave and persistent enemy; although we occasionally supported the villagers by building a water pump and distributing warm clothes. Looking into the overall pie chart across the whole Area of Operation (AO), Garmsir was the most contacted AO within Helmand province during HERRICK 7 with up to 47 contacts occurring every day, with a mixture of SAF and IDF being fired at our locations. Daily life was quite basic; we operated with very limited welfare facilities and without fresh rations however we used to have messing every 2 days. Although we were only one Coy Group operating in Garmsir, we managed to establish three further new Check Points to the south and east before we conducted our TOA (Transfer of Authority). We used our WMiKs and Pinzgaurs as ambulance vehicles (these were unprotected and open vehicles with a mounted gun on top), had limited amounts of ISTAR equipment and survived by applying basic soldiering skills in an incredibly austere environment.
A number of times IDF and RPG landed inside the FOB, which was only 150 x150m. We were very lucky that no one was injured as on one occasion 3 x 107mm rockets landed inside. Finally we completed the 6 month tour with only 3 x seriously injured casualties; this could have been far worse and had it not been for the outstanding soldiering skills and endurance of our Rfn, it would have been.
During Herrick 7 I had the honour of serving with Harry Saheb (Prince Harry), when he was appointed as FAC (Forward Air Controller) to control air assets for us. We looked after him very well, and we taught him how to eat curry by using his hands.
Later, B Company 2 RGR deployed in Garmsir during Op HERRICK 9. They showed me some photographs of Garmsir bazaar. The gravel road was properly black topped and Garmsir bazaar was crowded and full of people in an area where we used to conduct patrols with live rounds. Our sacrifice and loyal contribution toward Garmsir had clearly had a significant effect on the area; and knowing that I felt some sort of satisfaction.
Op HERRICK 12 (May – Nov 10) -‘Stay low, move slow’ was the motto used in HERRICK 12.
1RGR Battle Group deployed to the Nar-e-Saraj AO in Helmand province in a ground holding role. As I entered PB3, I was stunned to find that all the soldiers were living in tents. Clearly there was no IDF threat. As A (Delhi) Company 2IC, I took over the Ops room (from where all operations were controlled) from the Grenadier Guards. As the Company started to conduct Ground Defence Area (GDA) patrols, we realised there was a high threat of SAF, IEDs and suicide bombers. Our ground patrols focused on Biometric Enrolment and ex-spray, link analysis, hearts and minds, and Counter Insurgency (COIN). The ISAF mentoring team started to teach weapon training, medical skills, basic map reading and use of radios to the Afghan National Army and Police. We encouraged them to conduct Vehicle Check-Points, foot patrols and compound searches. Wherever possible we conducted joint planning and preparation prior to conducting joint patrols and operations with the ANSF. We started to encourage them to share our ops room, in contrast to HERRICK 7 where ops rooms would have been completely out of bounds to the ANSF. On patrols we encouraged them to take a lead, or at least put an Afghan face on Operations. For example, whilst they were conducting compound searches ISAF would be providing flank protection for them. Compared to HERRICK 7 it was different in terms of Rules of Engagement (ROE). Card A for self defence was used throughout the tour due to increased risk of civilian casualties. The IED threat was extremely high and therefore vallons were used on every occasion.
After the first three months off the tour there was a green on blue incident which occurred in PB 3 and resulted in 3 x Killed in action (OC -Maj Bowman, Pl Comd- Lt Turkington and Sect comd- Cpl Arjun Purja) and 4 x wounded in action. Immediately after this incident we moved further south west to establish new check points which helped to push bad memories of PB3 out of our minds. Meanwhile, one of the Coys from 1 Lancs took over PB 3.
Initially, we found it was quite hard to establish new Check Points in RAHIM KALAY (it was an area known as an insurgent strong-hold) and check points were constantly hit by Underslung Grenade Launchers, RPGs, SAF and grenade attacks. However, we managed to establish a number of positions in forward locations in order to dominate the ground. Despite the various threats, the ground call signs regularly patrolled in and around the village to protect the community. Gurkhas were known as desert rats in HERRICK 12 because we never stopped or moved backwards during contacts, but instead kept pushing towards Insurgents’ firing points. This made it difficult for the enemy to withdraw or hide their weapons inside the compounds. Village elders and Local nationals of RAHIM KALAY village praised our hard work prior to our departure from their village.
Op HERRICK 17 (Sep 12- Apr 13) -‘Stay in your PB and don’t move’ is our motto now use in HERRICK 17.
1RGR personnel is deployed in various locations under different units’ command. D (Kandahar) Company deployed to Nad-e-Ali AO in PB Wahid under 1 Mercian command within an Afghan Transition Enabling Company (ATEC) role. We took over from 1 Royal Welsh. PB Wahid is located on the southern side of the NeB canal which runs east to west. Our AO is huge and most of the area is covered by villages which are dominated by ALP and AUP with the NeB canal protected by ISAF and the ANA. Our mission is to support advisory teams, sustain the ANSF in the area and protect the Canal Zone to our south.
We are mainly involved in providing support to advisor teams in terms of manpower, vehicles and taxi-services. Advisory teams are responsible for mentoring the AUP, ALP and ANA in their check-points. This is known as the transition phase and involved responsibility of AOs being handed over to the ANSF at a rapid rate. Every week we conduct joint planning for joint operations by holding security shuras, which will allow us to create joint ISAF/ANSF patrol matrices. Compared to previous HERRICKs our framework patrols are significantly reduced and our remit for conducting patrols are limited. Therefore our patrols had to be partnered, or else limited to short range GDA patrols for force protection purposes. Although we are in an ATEC role we conducted a number of Ops with the ANSF into the DASHTE – where the SAF and IED threat was extremely high. On a number of occasions we supported the ANA and AUP directly and indirectly.
The IED and SAF threat was extremely high throughout the tour; however there was limited threat of IDF. More sophisticated ISTAR assets are introduced in HERRICK 17 which really help us to observe IED seeding teams during both day and night. However, due to the more restrictive rules of engagement of this tour we found it difficult to engage them. This was really frustrating and created a lot of anger in the ops room.
Conclusion. My experiences throughout my three HERRICK tours have been different, though ultimately the goal has always been the same. It is satisfying that during HERRICK 17 – which is likely to be my final tour, that the ANSF is taking up the reins and are now responsible for security. It demonstrates that the sacrifices and hard work have not been for nothing and that a real difference has been made. Ultimately, the question of whether we have been successful in our mission in Afghanistan will not be answered for many years. It will be the continued development of a strong Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan(GIRoA) backed by a functioning and confident ANSF delivering a meaningful and prosperous future to a secure population that will serve as evidence of our efforts. We feel proud of our contribution and hope for the best for Afghanistan’s future, secure in the knowledge that RGR’s reputation is stronger for our endeavours here.