Wednesday, May 12, 2010
Lance Corporal Richard Savage QRL blogs for Channel 4 News from the frontline in Afghanistan, where on his first operation in Sangin he is put on sentry duty - "stag" - at squadron headquarters.
As a force, we pride ourselves on our ability to win the hearts and minds of the local population. It is one of our main tactics in the attempt to defeat the insurgency. But having completed our first op, it is clear we are not the only ones trying that approach.
We had been tasked to go into the Sangin Valley and patrol around an area where ISAF troops hadn't been seen since the Rifles were there right at the beginning of Herrick 11.
We went in to see what the locals felt about ISAF, to see if we could help them with any projects and see if there were insurgents operating in the area. There was.
At first it looked as though I would be staying at Bastion whilst the rest went out on the op. But then our Colour Sergeant came in and asked if anyone else wanted to go up to Sangin.
Everyone put their hands up because they wanted to be with the lads. My hand went up as well and I was picked. Only then did they tell us it was to go and stag on in squadron headquarters (SHQ).
It later emerged that they could get a Chinook rather than a Merlin, which meant more space was available, so everyone got to go out - but I still ended up having to stag on in SHQ.
I realise now why they say: "Never volunteer for anything".
I was gutted. It broke me being back in SHQ and all the lads being out on the hill. I really wanted to be part of the first op. But then someone has to take their turn with these sort of roles.
We went up to FOB Inkerman a few hours before the rest of the squadron, to set up all the radios. The rest of them flew in early the following morning.
I watched them all come in over the aerial footage. It was incredible to watch. The Chinook was hovering over the ridge line and dropped the ramp down, with the wheels still off the ground, and all the lads just piled off.
There were lots of insurgents buzzing around the place and we found out they had planned an attack within ten minutes of the boys being on the ground.
It showed just how organised some of the Taliban are; the speed with which they could get themselves organised.
They had planned all the different ways of getting to our troops, but then they decided not to attack, because the locals were still harvesting poppy.
It was interesting that they held back because of this. Whether they were doing it for the hearts and minds of the locals, or because they needed the poppy crop to be harvested so that they could tax it, we might never know.
The second day of the op however, they didn't hold back.
We were warned that they were getting the RPGs ready to fire at us.
Some 10 minutes later we were contacted and it continued on and off for almost 12 hours.
I was logging all of the contact reports over the radio.For me, it was gutting listening to them and not being able to be part of it. What was worse, it was happening only about 1.5km from us and I could hear all of the warning shots and the returned fire.
They finally got the situation under control, completed their patrol and managed to get picked up by helicopter early the following morning.
It was a successful operation because it identified some key insurgency leaders.
It was fascinating watching all the different agencies working together and working well. This is the advantage of working in the HQ, you get to know what’s going on.
But then it was just frustrating knowing what was going on, but not being able to be part of it directly.
We came back about midday because we had to take down all the radios and wait for a Chinook to fly out. We got back to Bastion, had the afternoon as admin time and then started to prep for the next op.
FOB (Forward Operating Base) Inkerman is different to the last time I was there, because they’ve got more Hesco Bastion and protected accommodation now.
But it didn't get contacted as much as it did last time. It's calmed down in the area big time and shows we are improving the situation.
It’s still just a FOB though, so it still has dodgy showers which just spray water at your face and the toilets are basic, that sort of stuff.
The food was good though. It was really good.
The FOB has an amazing view of the green zone. You can see these amazing colours like the blue water of the Helmand river which was like a Mediterranean blue.
This would be a really amazing country if there weren't so many insurgents around trying to kill you.