British trained Afghan soldiers lead operation into Taliban stronghold
19 Jul 10
Five hundred Afghan troops, trained by the British Army, led an operation into a Taliban stronghold last Sunday, 11 July 2010, to reinstate government authority and bring security to the area.
Members The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1SCOTS), and members of the Afghan National Army patrolling into Yakchal, southeast of Geresh [Picture: Corporal Paul Randall, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
The operation, known as Op OMID DO (HOPE 2), was the culmination of weeks of planning by Colonel Sheren Shah, the Commander of the 3rd Kandak (Brigade), and his staff based in Camp Shorabak in the Helmand desert near Camp Bastion.
It was one of the first major operations entirely planned and executed under Afghan National Army (ANA) command. The Afghan troops involved have been trained and mentored by a team from The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1SCOTS), commanded by Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Herbert.
Lt Col Herbert said:
"This operation was planned by the Brigade Commander himself and his staff. He is relatively experienced down here - he was the Executive Officer to the last Brigade Commander - so he understands Helmand quite well. His brigade headquarters staff are brand new, they only arrived in Helmand in February and March. They have been forming up over the last six months learning their jobs, learning their role."
"So they have taken this problem through, we took them through some basic planning processes, taught them how to develop a plan, they decided that they wanted to do it in this area, they then took that plan with a little bit of mentor support from us turned it into a workable and executable plan."
The operation began at 0100hrs on 11 July 2010 with the ANA force leading the convoy out of their camp to move east through Gereshk to a check point on the outskirts of a village called Yakchal.
By 1800hrs Afghan reconnaissance teams and military engineers were moving forward towards another village, Safian, bridging the wider drainage ditches that crossed the area.
The going was slow, with the troops scanning the ground for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) placed by the insurgents. The whole area was thought to be dominated by the Taliban, but in the sweltering heat of the first morning there was no contact with the enemy. Reaching the first compounds, Afghan troops talked with the local residents, and supportive locals brought milk and water out for the soldiers to drink.
As the day went on there were sporadic incidents of small arms fire and one unit came under attack from rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) fire
Sergeant Rahman from the 3rd Kandak, 3rd Brigade Afghan National Army explained:
Colonel Sheren Shan Koradi briefs his soldiers before Operation OMID DO
[Picture: Corporal Paul Randall, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
[Picture: Corporal Paul Randall, Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
"We deal with insurgents firing at us nearly every day; so we weren't afraid by this situation in Yakchal. When we came under RPG fire, we spent some time finding out where it was coming from and engaged him. We were supported by ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] Apache helicopters - the rest of the insurgents fled."
The ANA and their ISAF partners spent the night in compounds in the Safian area before moving further south the following morning. The main threat from the insurgents by this stage in the operation shifted to that of freshly-emplaced IEDs, but the ANA were able to spot the recently placed explosives and were able to deploy their own disposal teams to eliminate the threat.
Reflecting on the success of the operation, Lt Col Herbert added: "OMID DO is a significant operation. For the first time we have seen in central Helmand a truly ANA-planned and ANA-led operation whereby they really are the supported command with ISAF working in a supporting role. This was an operation that was conceived by them, planned by them, executed by them with us very much in support. So as we move towards a point where we transfer security control over to the Afghans, this is quite a significant moment along the way."
Afghan military engineers moving towards Safian to bridge the wider drainage ditches crossing the area [Picture: Crown Copyright/MOD 2010]
"This has been a demanding operation, 48 hours pretty much non-stop in sweltering conditions. We've all felt it, and for those who think the ANA don't necessarily have the appetite, this has proved them wrong. We've seen ANA commanders with the will, making decisions in conjunction with their mentors, using their mentors to provide some advice and support, and that has been encouraging to see, to help them learn."
Major General Richard Mills, Commander of the newly-formed Regional Command (South West), and Brigadier Richard Felton, the British Commander of Task Force Helmand, arrived in the area early on the second day of the operation. Met by Colonel Shah, they were briefed by ANA staff on the planning for the operation, the concept of operations and were briefed on how the operation had progressed over the previous 36 hours. They then moved to Safian - one of the main objectives of the operation - where they were able to see for themselves the progress that had been made and have a chat with one of the locals as well.
The operation demonstrated to the 3rd Brigade and to the local people of central Helmand that they are a credible, capable and confident force and will be key players in ridding the insurgency from their country.
For the 1 SCOTS advisors, it was also an opportunity for them to see the results of the extensive training that they had given to the Brigade - at all levels. The lead infantry companies responded effectively and with restraint under fire; and the staff officers showed a thorough understanding of operational planning and execution. Operation OMID DO concluded with a shura which was well received by the locals who told the soldiers their concerns. Lt Col Herbert said:
"The fact the Shura took place is really significant. This was a real demonstrable aspect - an Afghan operation, delivered by Afghans, putting an Afghan lead on the end. What we had was the Deputy District Governor, and the Deputy Provincial Governor fly in. They led the shura, they talked to all the locals about their problems. They talked to them about how they accept ANA in the area. One of the key objectives here was to conduct some government outreach. So it was great that we managed to do that and in some respects that is far more important than the tactical effect which we had on the ground."