COLUMN: Afghan Diary

The Escort Multiple, which provides Royal Engineers wil mobility across Helmand province. (S)
The Escort Multiple, which provides Royal Engineers wil mobility across Helmand province. (S)
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Lt Rosie Brooks gives a recap of the past week for Ripon’s 21 Engineers serving in Afghanistan:

This week I have once again been lucky enough to get out with the Escort Multiple to visit our soldiers across Helmand.The Escort Multiple is a troop of soldiers that provide the Royal Engineers with mobility across the province in their fleet of protected vehicles as well as extra manpower that can surge onto priority tasks.

This week, 9 Troop from 73 AES finished their work at Check Point (CP) Tapa Tubchee, nicknamed ‘Artillery Hill,’ in Nahr-e Seraj. The CP, which serves as a base from which the Afghan National Army (ANA) Artillery detachment operate, is tactically important to the ANA as it offers unobstructed views over the surrounding areas, particularly the busy town of Gereshk – Helmand’s second largest population centre.

I have been impressed by how the works at Artillery Hill have progressed so quickly since my last couple of visits, and seeing it on completion has really helped my understanding of how efficiently the Engineers plan and execute their tasks.

The hill has now been handed back to the ANA soldiers who live there who were extremely happy with the vast improvements which had been made. The work was projected to take up to one month to complete, but being the ever professional, keen and enthusiastic soldiers that they are, 9 Troop and members of the ANA Engineer Tolay (Squadron) completed the work in just 16 days. Exceeding what is expected of them is something which the Sappers pride themselves on.

Over the last week we have been accompanied by Gary Sullivan, a civil engineering journalist, who was visiting to understand and report on how the Engineers are contributing to the transition effort in Afghanistan.

On route to Artillery Hill we experienced a rather bumpy ride as we had to take a couple of cross-country routes. I soon discovered the hard way that a Ridgeback is a lot less comfortable than a Husky to travel over uneven ground.

I was glad L/Cpl Mark Bloomfield, who was commanding the armoured vehicle I was travelling in, had advised me to take a cushion for a bit of added padding! Despite clipping myself in as tightly as possible, I still found myself being bounced out of my seat a few times.

We visited one of our Troops based at Patrol Base 4 (PB4), which is in Nad-e Ali, Southern Helmand. This is a location which Gary told me he had visited during a previous visit on Operation (Op) Herrick 13. He was amazed by how much the area had changed and was very interested in how the troop had begun preparing the PB for closure.

During Op Herrick 13, the area had been extremely hostile as the majority of the local population had been forced to flee due to insurgent violence and intimidation. The Royal Ghurkha Rifles (RGR) currently based there had also been based there on Op Herrick 12 and they marvelled at how many people now populated the surrounding villages and that children in the area can go to school – all positive steps on the road to transition. Another positive change to the area since both Gary and the RGR last visited was the increased economic prosperity, with livestock and farmers’ fields now surrounding PB4 and the area linked with asphalt roads provided by the Government of Afghanistan in cooperation with coalition forces. This has clearly improved access to the area so that it is safe and ready for full transition to Afghan control in the near future.

Before we arrived at PB4, Gary had expressed that he was keen to speak to mobilised reserve soldiers who were attached to us for the duration of our tour. I was impressed on our arrival that Lt Graham Evitts, the covering Troop Commander in charge of the closure of PB4, had lined up two reserves to speak to us. I stood by as Gary explained to them who he was, why he was here and why in particular he was keen to speak to them.

Spr Braithwaite looked slightly confused and said: “I’m not TA and neither is L/Cpl Heywood.” Lt Evitts, looking slightly embarrassed, quickly found us the actual TA soldier he had in his troop (who luckily was quite happy to speak to us) before giving us a tour of the work he had achieved so far with his Troop at the PB.

The Talisman Squadron have continued to provide route safety for both International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) and Afghan National security Forces (ANSF) as they have conducted deliberate operations this week.

More importantly they have continued to provide a level of security to the local national populace in the Northern Helmand Province, which in turn reinforces the transition effort.

“Talisman soldiers have continued to work with Brigade Manoeuvre assets having supported the Surveillance and Intelligence Group through the first few weeks of the year. The continued support and hard work by the lads is ensuring that follow-on units avoid the constant threat of Improvised Explosive Devices, allowing them to conduct successful operations to counter insurgent activities,” said Capt Matt Baines, Talisman Second-in-Command.

Not to be put off by being busy, Staff Sgt Pete Sutton and L/Cpl Mark Bloomfield of the Escort Multiple convinced S/Sgt Mukungunugwa to take part in the final Dancon march, organised by the current Danish troops based in Camp Bastion.

The march is a 25km race during which competitiors have to carry a daysack weighing 10kg. S/Sgt Sutton, being the ever competitive athlete he is, amazed everyone by setting a new record by completing it in 1hr 55m.