Friday, June 5, 2009
Lt Col Simon Banton, 2 MERCIAN, reports from Helmand (Part 4)
The last 3 weeks have been a busy time indeed for the 2 MERCIAN BG. We took part in an Operation that helped push the Taliban out of one of their last strongholds and
worked with the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) in doing so.
The Operation started just over two weeks ago with joint planning between the ANA, ANP, local leaders, 19 Brigade and under the watchful eye of 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment. It was a prime example of how the Afghan National Security Forces are taking responsibility for their security and taking the battle to the insurgent forces operating in Afghanistan.
Starting on Monday, 27th April, more than 150 warriors of the Afghan National Army and 60 Afghan National Policeman deployed on Operation ZAFAR, which means 'Journey' in the local Pashtu language.
Two teams of 10 men from 2 MERCIAN Operational Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT), accompanied the Afghan warriors while Gurkhas supported the Policemen. The operation was coordinated on the ground by the 2 MERCIAN Battlegroup headquarters. In total, 35 of your soldiers were involved in the operation at all levels including myself.
The Operation began with a move into villages around BASHARAN to clear the Taliban out and allow Afghan security forces to establish themselves.
Within ten minutes of the operation beginning fighting broke out with the insurgents and then lasted for 2 days. The Afghan Army cleared the enemy held areas and Policemen secured villages and reassured the local population. The Afghan Warriors fighting alongside your soldiers proved to be seasoned fighters and fought hard to provide security in this part of their own country.
Under the careful guidance of the Gurkhas, the Policemen reassured the local people. During this week-long operation many Taliban insurgents are known to have been killed, while the ANA and 2 MERCIAN sustained only a handful of casualties, none serious. The action pushed the Taliban out of several villages near to the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah.
By the end of the week, UK stabilisation teams were conducting meetings with the local elders, religious teachers and leaders who have been under the shadow of the Taliban for some time, offering a range of ways to help the villagers, from refurbishing schools to improving healthcare provision and security.
My Battle Group headquarters was involved in the initial phase of the operation, where the enemy provided a determined resistance and were not willing to give up the area without a fight. During one 3 hour stage, all elements of the force were involved and we called in air strikes and artillery bombardments to support the troops. With the enemy being outmatched they soon withdrew and by Wednesday we were in a position to start building up permanent bases for the ANA and ANP in this newly captured area.
Within 30 hours and with protection from our forces, the ANA and the ANP the Royal Engineers had secured and fortified an area the size of 2 football pitches.
This operation was another example of the progress being made by the Afghanistan National Army.
They proved to be flexible, committed and brave. On more than one occasion it was touch and go as the enemy fought hard, but the Afghan Warriors did not retreat.
You can be assured that the MERCIAN soldiers fought hard and were absolutely indomitable. They are fine successors to many thousands of infantrymen who have
joined and fought with the Regiments raised in Nottingham, Derbyshire and Worcestershire for the last 300 years.
This was the largest operation that 2 MERCIAN has been involved in since we took over and I am very proud of my soldiers. With just over a quarter of the tour passed I am confident we are up to the task in hand and will continue to work with out Afghan friends to further the security situation in Helmand. As always we pass on our regards to those in the UK and hope you are well.