Scots soldiers patrol into enemy territory and speak to locals 16 May 2011
Members of 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Afghan National Police have taken part in a five-day operation in the Lashkar Gah area of Helmand.
Before sunrise, A Company 4 SCOTS and their ANP counterparts set off from their base at Checkpointy Said Abdul carrying everything they would need for the duration of the op, including kit, ammunition, water and food.
Being truly self sufficient meant each soldier had to carry more than 60 kilos often in temperatures above 40 degrees.
'Disrupt the insurgents'
It would be a tough few days but Major Neil Tomlin (35), Officer Commanding A Company, explains the reason behind the operation: “The Loy Check region of Helmand hasn’t seen a great deal of ISAF presence and as a result has previously been identified as an area where insurgents have been able to move freely.
"At the moment, the insurgents are largely focused on the poppy harvest so wanted to get into the Loy Check region to win the population over and disrupt the insurgents to deny them the opportunity to get into the area, helping to bring some form of security to the region.”
Despite the arid heat, much of the area around Loy Check is very green and lush. The soldiers found themselves not only having to walk along dusty tracks, but weave through tall grass and even wade through rivers. Along the way, the soldiers and police stopped to engage with the locals and find out more about the area.
Shot in the face
At one point, a man came out of his compound with his two children and was keen to talk to the ISAF and Afghan personnel. He told them about how his four-year-old son was now permanently disfigured after being shot in the face by the insurgents and he was glad that the British and Afghan forces were in the area to deter the insurgents from returning.
In order to seek some refuge from the blazing sun and get some rest, A Company negotiated with some locals to use a compound as a base where they could take a break in the shade. The short period of down time in which the soldiers can dry off, have a power nap and even play cards is important to allow them to recharge before heading back out on the ground.
Throughout the operation, the Jocks and Afghans held a number of shuras with locals to discuss concerns they may have about security or other issues affecting them. Maj Tomlin said: “The key thing about these shuras is that increasingly, it is not an ISAF face that leads them. It’s the ANP or ANA or in this case, a member of the district government who had come down from Lashkar Gah.
"That means the problems that are being highlighted and discussed are actually directed at those who are going to be here for the long term – as opposed to ISAF, who stay for 6 months at a time and will ultimately hand over security altogether.”
Corporal Lee Johnson (34) is a Royal Military Policeman from 111 Provost Company, attached to 4 SCOTS. This is his second tour of Afghanistan and he says there has been a big improvement since he was last here two years ago.
“The ANP are partnering with us almost all the time now and when we are moving forward, they are taking more of a lead role on patrols, at check points and in compound searches," he said. "On this operation, they’ve been key in liaising with local elders which is really important in winning their trust. But our skills and drills have also improved and the kit we are issued is a lot better than we have had previously too – this is probably the best equipment I’ve had since I joined the Army and that makes our job easier.”
After five days of patrols, searches and shuras, A Company returned to their base to take stock of what they had learnt but more importantly to get a good wash and some well earned rest.
Maj Tomlin said they learnt a lot from the operation: “Our measurement of success is how many conversations we have with the locals so that we can build up a picture of the area.
"And it’s not just about understanding the people, but also appreciating their difficulties, the crops they grow, the fears they have. We can then pass those on to the ANSF or the district government so that they are able to deal with the issues themselves.”