Afghanistan — UK-led central Helmand operation going to plan

Oper­a­tion TOR SHEZADA, the cur­rent mil­i­tary effort to clear insur­gents from cen­tral Hel­mand province, is going accord­ing to plan and extreme­ly well, Lieu­tenant Colonel Fraz­er Lawrence, offi­cer com­mand­ing the oper­a­tion, said today.

Explosives and bomb components being destroyed by members of the Counter-IED Task Force on Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
Explo­sives and bomb com­po­nents being destroyed by mem­bers of the Counter-IED Task Force on Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
Source: Cor­po­ral Bar­ry Lloyd, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Lt Col Lawrence is Com­mand­ing Offi­cer of 1st Bat­tal­ion The Duke of Lancaster’s Reg­i­ment (1 LANCS) who launched Op TOR SHEZADA (Black Prince) on Fri­day morn­ing to clear insur­gents from the area around Sayed­abad to the south of Nad ‘Ali in Hel­mand province, and pre­vent its use as a base from which to launch attacks. 

Sol­diers from 1 LANCS are work­ing joint­ly with the Afghan Nation­al Army and 1st Bat­tal­ion The Roy­al Reg­i­ment of Scot­land (1 SCOTS) to push out and clear vil­lages sur­round­ing the town of Sayed­abad, the last remain­ing foothold for insur­gents in the area. 

See Relat­ed Links for images and video footage from Days 2 and 3 of Oper­a­tion TOR SHEZADA

Speak­ing to the BBC on Day 4 of the oper­a­tion, Lt Col Lawrence said: 

“I’m out on the ground pret­ty much all day so I can tell you first-hand it’s going accord­ing to plan, it’s going extreme­ly well. The activ­i­ty by the insur­gents isn’t as great as we expect­ed and we’re on track.” 

The oper­a­tion has been launched to build on the momen­tum gen­er­at­ed by Oper­a­tion MOSHTARAK which saw British troops clear the area around Nad ‘Ali to the north, and Amer­i­can troops clear­ing Mar­jah to the south, ear­li­er this year. 

Lt Col Lawrence explained why the area around Sayed­abad has been his priority: 

“It’s a foothold that the insur­gents have in the Green Zone here and it’s the one area where the Dis­trict Gov­er­nor here has­n’t been able to get down to in order to engage with his people. 

“There are 15 pop­u­la­tion cen­tres with­in this area and 14 of them are under gov­ern­ment con­trol. Sayed­abad is the last one that’s not and there­fore it was some­thing that need­ed to be dealt with. 

Lieutenant Olly Field (left) and Bombardier Matthew Nichols check their kit after moving into a compound outside Sayedabad
Lieu­tenant Olly Field (left) and Bom­bardier Matthew Nichols check their kit after mov­ing into a com­pound out­side Sayed­abad
Source: Cor­po­ral Gary Kendall, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“We’ve been deal­ing with the elders down in Sayed­abad for the last two months. The Dis­trict Gov­er­nor has had a num­ber of shuras with them but he has­n’t been able to hold those down in Sayed­abad, they’ve been up in the dis­trict cen­tre here. And they are des­per­ate to be free from the insur­gents, so it’s impor­tant for all of those reasons. 

“The plan is real­ly to clear and hold it, to pro­vide a secu­ri­ty bub­ble with our Afghan part­ners to allow recon­struc­tion and devel­op­ment and the gov­er­nance side to actu­al­ly get down there and take hold.” 

The oper­a­tion was spear­head­ed on Fri­day morn­ing by sol­diers from Somme Com­pa­ny, 1 LANCS, who were insert­ed by Chi­nook heli­copter under the cov­er of dark­ness close to the town with forces from 21 Engi­neer Reg­i­ment, the Counter-IED Task Force, 1 SCOTS, and sol­diers from the Afghan Nation­al Army. 

1 LANCS took the local com­pounds — their ini­tial objec­tives — unop­posed and began mov­ing sup­plies of water, rations and ammo, which had also been air dropped by Chi­nook heli­copters, into the safe­ty of the com­pounds as the dawn light began to take hold. 

At the same time sol­diers from the Brigade Recon­nais­sance Force car­ried out a sim­i­lar inser­tion on the oth­er side of the town. 

Major Simon Ridg­way, 1 LANCS, explained what the troops were doing at this stage: 

“This oper­a­tion start­ed with the use of heli­copters to insert a num­ber of troops onto the ground and they’ve seized objec­tives from which they will now operate. 

“From those areas they will seek to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of the area, of the local peo­ple and the insur­gent activ­i­ty so we can build up the pic­ture so that we can make progress and start to clear the insur­gents out of the area.” 

British and Afghan troops muster in a compound in Nad 'Ali, Helmand province, on Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
British and Afghan troops muster in a com­pound in Nad ‘Ali, Hel­mand province, on Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
Source: Cor­po­ral Gary Kendall, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

The ISAF forces were met with lit­tle resis­tance in tak­ing the com­pounds. Lt Col Lawrence explained why that might be: 

“I think part of the rea­son is because some of the insur­gents will have blend­ed in, they’ll have laid down their arms and they’re prob­a­bly wait­ing to see what happens. 

“I think a num­ber will have fled the area and I’m hop­ing that a num­ber will actu­al­ly lay down their arms per­ma­nent­ly and rein­te­grate back into society.” 

Once estab­lished in the com­pounds, the ISAF sol­diers start­ed rein­forc­ing their posi­tions and cre­at­ing hasty fir­ing points along the rooftops out of sandbags. 

Through­out the com­pounds light san­gars were erect­ed hous­ing var­i­ous sup­port weapon sys­tems. At the same time Roy­al Engi­neers were brought for­ward to clear trees and scrub­land around the new com­pounds to pro­vide bet­ter fields of vision. 

Roy­al Engi­neer Sec­tion Com­man­der, Lance Cor­po­ral Ryan Tay­lor, said: 

“We get sent out to cut down the trees and thin veg­e­ta­tion so that we can get arcs onto posi­tions. We can increase the arcs by a lot fur­ther depth. We can see any Tal­iban or insur­gents approach­ing try­ing to creep up on the posi­tion. It also deters them from try­ing to plant any near­by IEDs.” 

Speak­ing on Fri­day, Cap­tain Brad Pino, 13 Pla­toon Com­man­der, said: 

“We left at first light this morn­ing to push round into an area we know that the insur­gents have used before and pre­vi­ous­ly there has been an IED factory. 

Soldiers of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment on patrol south of Nad 'Ali during Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
Sol­diers of 1st Bat­tal­ion The Duke of Lancaster’s Reg­i­ment on patrol south of Nad ‘Ali dur­ing Day 2 of Op TOR SHEZADA
Source: Cor­po­ral Gary Kendall, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

“So we’ve pushed out to clear the kalay [vil­lage] just to see if there are any insur­gents still in the area and to find out what the local nation­als know and whether they’re hap­py that ISAF are here. 

“It’s been real­ly qui­et. The locals seem quite on side and hap­py to see us. They’ve told us that the insur­gents have been in the area recent­ly, poten­tial­ly there are still some insur­gents in the area, and there are some IEDs in the area.” 

Work­ing on intel­li­gence gained on the ground, the Roy­al Engi­neer Search Team moved in to search a sus­pect­ed IED fac­to­ry once the remain­ing build­ings had been cleared by sol­diers from 1 LANCS and their Afghan colleagues. 

Lieu­tenant Amy Pen­ning­ton from the Counter-IED Task Force said: 

“There was local intel­li­gence that one of the com­pounds had been used as an IED fac­to­ry. So my team was sent in to search that fac­to­ry and we actu­al­ly found com­po­nent parts of IEDs. 

“Once we found the com­po­nent parts of the IEDs we removed them and then the main charges were dem-ed [demol­ished] in situ by the ATO [Ammu­ni­tion Tech­ni­cal Officer].” 

Since then the ongo­ing patrols around the town have allowed forces to inter­act and reas­sure local nation­als about the oper­a­tion and the increased secu­ri­ty it will create. 

IED components found inside an IED factory by Somme Company, 1 LANCS, and the Counter-IED Task Force
IED com­po­nents found inside an IED fac­to­ry by Somme Com­pa­ny, 1 LANCS, and the Counter-IED Task Force
Source: Cor­po­ral Bar­ry Lloyd, Min­istry of Defence, UK
Click to enlarge

Major Ridg­way explained further: 

“What we’re try­ing to do with the local peo­ple is to devel­op the secu­ri­ty in that area and that’s through a num­ber of ways includ­ing the estab­lish­ment of check­points, through patrolling, and just build­ing up intel­li­gence, but pri­mar­i­ly using the local peo­ple to help pro­vide some of their own security.” 

Refer­ring to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of the insur­gents return­ing, Major Ridg­way said: 

“There’s noth­ing to nec­es­sar­i­ly stop them com­ing back in; what we need to do is to remove their abil­i­ty to operate. 

“And the key thing is their access to weapons, to ammu­ni­tion, to impro­vised explo­sive devices, and by secur­ing and dom­i­nat­ing the area we reduce that free­dom of move­ment for the insur­gent and then togeth­er we, with the local peo­ple, by con­vinc­ing them that their future will be bet­ter under their own local gov­ern­ment, that col­lec­tive­ly we can then estab­lish the security.” 

Lt Col Lawrence explained what hap­pens next: 

“Once we have secured the area and once the major lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion, the major routes, are clear of IEDs then that’s the clear phase complete. 

“And then we go into the hold phase. Now the hold phase is endur­ing, it is mak­ing sure that with our Afghan part­ners that the insur­gent isn’t able to get back in there. So the clear phase, I sus­pect, will be com­plete in a cou­ple of weeks; the hold phase will endure.” 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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