Friday, May 15, 2009

Lt Col Simon Banton, 2 MERCIAN, reports from Helmand (Part 3)

We have now been operating in Helmand for three weeks. The temperature is slowly creeping up but there have been some terrific electrical storms crashing above us. Notable occurrences this week include combat operations in Nad-i-Ali and Musa-Qaleh, and Shuras to engage with the local population.

We have also been visited by the Commander 19 Brigade, the Chief of the Danish Defence Staff and an American Colonel responsible for mentoring the Afghan Corps Headquarters. We are working with our Afghan Army counterparts and I have spent a lot of time with the Afghan Brigade Commander, General Muhaiyodin.

Your soldiers on the ground have worked extremely well with their Afghan National Army (ANA) partners, operating in Nad-i-Ali and Musa-Qaleh.

In Nad-i-Ali, an operation involved fostering security, building new Patrol Bases (PBs) and reassuring the local population. Drawing from elements of the ANA, our OMLT, soldiers from Estonia and other British units, they were successful in several clashes with the Taliban and resulted in the Afghan Security Forces being able to assert more influence in these areas.

Working outside of the relative safety of their bases they deployed onto the ground for several days and fought, ate and slept in their vehicles and alongside the ANA. These joint operations will bear fruit in the future allowing more ANA troops to operate in the areas enhancing their authority in the eyes of the population.

In Musa-Qaleh, there has been increased interaction between ISAF and the ANA. Several Shuras have also taken place recently – what the Afghans call local meetings involving local Elders, Maliks (religious teachers who have completed the Haji to Saudi Arabia) and Mullahs (a religious preacher who has completed education at a Madras or religious school).

These are where our British Company Commanders and the local Afghan Kandak (Battalion) Commanders meet with the local people and any grievances, successes and plans can be discussed. These can be initiated on the spot on a case by case basis, or planned regularly in advance. With copious amounts of green tea being consumed (an Afghan tradition during meetings) this enables reassurance and allows discussion to be fostered, furthering the ‘consent winning’ approach of our troops.

Next week I move to visit your soldiers in Garmsir, previously the scene of fierce fighting but now a bustling town, and I intend to tell you more of the 3 Brigade Commander General Mohaiyodin – he is a lynchpin for our work.

As always we pass on our regards to those in the UK.

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