Saturday, April 25, 2009
Lt Col RJ Thomson, 2 RIFLES BG - blogs from Helmand, part 1
I write for the first time from Sangin and the Battle Group is now well established in its temporary home. Afghanistan is the most fascinatingly diverse and striking country. The inhospitable mountains rise, seemingly out of nowhere, at the edge of the desert, which rolls, in places, all the way down to the River Helmand. The river is currently in spate and, up at Kajaki Dam, the water thunders off the spill-way with a vehemence to rival the River Zambesi in Zimbabwe. We need our canoes.
The Green Zone is like England in spring - the most brilliant green. The wheat is growing fast but, for now, the locals are focused on bringing in the poppy harvest. And it involves everyone, right down to the smallest child. The roads… well the roads are like driving across hardened sand dunes.
Life is very hard - most people here are subsistence farmers who work the land and sell anything which is left over. Sangin itself is a very linear town - one high street but you can buy pretty well anything. I was being offered an engraved head-board for my bed on my last visit! Not convinced about the butcher's shop but the bread (khobs) is delicious.
We have five major Forward Operating Bases where we mostly live and a handful of Patrol Bases, where we live alongside the Afghan National Army. The RSM and I have made it round almost all the FOBs and most of the PBs. You will be glad to hear that we are not living in discomfort but it certainly isn't The Marriott Hotel. The food is amazing and the chefs are doing stirling work.
For those of us who like bacon grill (a sort of bacon-y spam), we are in seventh heaven because it is on the menu every morning. The bathrooms are 'al fresco' but there is no better way to start the day with a wash and shave in the sun (temperatures are Mediterranean at the moment but will rise another 14-16 degrees - help!). The showers have fancy, zip-up curtains and there are no real decisions to make about the temperature as they are all cold, but in an encouragingly refreshing way.
We are a huge Battle Group - there are over 1000 soldiers working in the team with over 18 different cap-badges. There is a tremendous sense of purpose and you can almost see the determination of the Riflemen to make a difference - both for the government of Afghanistan and, (in a way) more importantly, the Afghan people.
The Riflemen have made a cracking start - everyone has got to grips with the job in hand very quickly - and we are working closely with Afghan soldiers and Policemen. We have established a good understanding of the ground on which we operate and have been struck by the friendly reaction from most people. The Afghans desperately want security so that they can go about their daily business without fear and intimidation. The Taleban Insurgent influence though is never far below the surface.
We know that you are supporting us and we are hugely grateful; it makes a big difference. I have had some great letters wishing us well and I know that we are in the thoughts and prayers of many back at home. And there have been some huge parcels - keep them coming. I know that the separation is not easy but hope that the news, blogs and photos on the website can bring us a little closer. We miss you all and think of you often. And it is great to hear that there is much happening back in Ballykinler. We will certainly returned bronzed heroes and probably a good deal leaner. For some of us, that is no bad thing. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers as we do our important work out here.
Bugle Major, Sound the Advance
Lt Col RJ THOMSON
CO 2 RIFLES BG/BG(N)