Sunday, May 10, 2009
Lt Col Simon Banton, 2 MERCIAN, reports from Helmand (Part 2)
Welcome to my second blog as the Commanding Officer of the OMLT BG, I have now been in Command of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Battle Group for just over a fortnight. All of the mentor teams are deployed onto the ground and the RSM and I have visited the first of the Patrol Bases (PBs) in Musa Qaleh and Sangin. We have also had our first troops in contact with the enemy and our first combat casualty which thankfully was not life threatening.
Our teams are patrolling daily with their Afghan counterparts, spread throughout much of Helmand province. A true testament to how we are operating is that from our furthest base south to our base furthest in the north is well in excess of 100 miles. Our soldiers are operating with other Battle Groups and in certain places alongside other soldiers from our NATO allies.
At both Musa Qaleh and then Sangin, the RSM and I saw first hand how they are living, working and fighting next to the ANA Warriors (what the ANA call their soldiers). In Musa Qaleh the Patrol Bases are closely located, enabling their defences to overlap in many places and allowing them fields of view and fire out into enemy territory.
They are literally on the border between the Afghan government controlled areas and those areas out of reach, where the Taliban still has influence. Each joint patrol between our teams and the ANA assures the population and fosters greater self-belief for the ANA commanders on the ground. Our commanders already have a good working rapport with their ANA counterparts and are nurturing relationships with the populace.
In Sangin, for some, it is familiar territory, as it is where A (Grenadier) and elements of D Company were based on the last tour, less than 17 months ago, how quickly it comes round again! Here they are located in a city which is a beacon of government control in an area that was mostly Taliban controlled. Here our joint patrols are again furthering the legitimacy of the Afghan government and promoting the ANA in the eyes of the local populace.
Our troops have been working with the ANA Warriors for nearly 3 weeks now, helping them dominate the ground and fighting the Taliban with them. We have had several battles with insurgents and taken the fight to them each time, with several new soldiers straight out of training distinguishing themselves.
It was during one of these battles that our first casualty was sustained in the area of Garmsir. Sgt Dennis was injured taking cover from a Rocket Propelled Grenade (RPG)that exploded close by. He was quickly evacuated from the area, ahead of the timescale that casualty evacuation requires and was swiftly treated for his injuries. He has now returned to the UK and his family despite his enthusiasm to stay. I wish him and his family the best of luck in his recovery and look forward to him returning to duty.
Our soldiers are working really hard and are enjoying their role and I am truly proud of what they do and what they sacrifice. We are now well into our first month and morale remains high. I still plan to visit the rest of our PBs and will keep you informed of these visits, I also hope to get photos of where the men live and work so you can get a feel of their locations.
For those families and friends of the Battalion at home we pass on our best and hope that you are well.