Tuesday, July 28, 2009
Op Panther's Claw: Lt Col Gus Fair DSO, Commanding Officer of The Light Dragoons
The sweep across Spin Masjed and Babiji 4-8 Jul and 10-14 Jul 09
The clearance of Malgir and Babaji was one of the final phases of Op Panchai Palang and was very much dependant on the hard work put in across the rest of the Brigade. Having effectively sealed off the Green Zone, with the Welsh Guards blocking the West, the Danes the North and the East, and A squadron of Light Dragoons the south, The Light Dragoons Battle Group was tasked to clear the Green Zone of Taliban and free the local people from their intimidation and brutality.
This we have done. The Battlegroup broke in through a bridgehead secured by the Danish Battlegroup and fought its way South through determined enemy resistance. We subsequently cleared our way west, and have now cleared the enemy from Malgir and Babaji.
This was the most intense fighting over a protracted period I have experienced in my 20 years in the Army. The men, women and equipment delivered more than we had any right to expect. The conditions could barely have been more testing and I am humbled by the extraordinary bravery, determination and resilience that I witnessed from soldiers ranging from the young female medic who walked every inch of the way to the 49-year-old TA WO2 (Territorial Army Warrant Officer Class two) who ran a sniper team.
As a result of this operation many more Afghans are now living under the control of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan; people who were previously subject to the rule of the Taliban. They can now live without the fear of the Taliban visiting in the middle of the night; they have the freedom to vote in next month’s elections; the chance to look forward to enjoying some of the rights and privileges that we are lucky enough to take for granted.
Progress such as this does not come for free, and we have paid a heavy price. The fierce fighting resulted in the deaths of Pte Laws 2 MERCIAN, LCpl Elson 1st Bn Welsh Guards, and LCpl Dennis and Tpr Whiteside from The Light Dragoons. 4 Afghan soldiers have also lost their lives fighting alongside us, and their commitment and dedication to their country’s future should not be underestimated. The cost on the enemy should also not go unreported; we have comprehensively defeated the Taliban wherever we have found him, and his losses have been far in excess of ours.
Some will ask whether the progress is worth the cost. I can answer for everyone in my battlegroup when I answer with a resounding yes. At the beginning of this tour, the battlegroup deployed to Garmsir, now under command of the US Marines. Many of the soldiers had fought there in 2007 as we battled the Taliban for control of the District Centre. The progress we saw there was remarkable. Where we had once fought in a deserted and ruined town, there is now a burgeoning market and people able to go about their day to day lives in peace. Wheat was being grown instead of poppy, and the people were able to determine their own future independent of either ISAF or Taliban control.
That progress is achievable in Babaji and Malgir, and already we are seeing people attending shuras with both ISAF and the local governance. However, the Taliban recognise the threat, and progress will not come without the continued efforts of the soldiers under my command and those that replace them. Some of them will give up their lives to achieve this, as will some Afghans we fight alongside, but we know that we owe it to those killed and injured over the last month, the people who we have liberated with the promise of a better life, and the people in the UK whose way of life we seek to defend, to ensure that we do not fail.