Frustrations, setbacks, fatigue and successes — mentoring the Afghan Army

Before leav­ing Afghanistan last week the head of a British team men­tor­ing and part­ner­ing an Afghan Army bat­tal­ion wrote about the frus­tra­tions, suc­cess­es, set­backs and fatigue of devel­op­ing the Afghans into an inde­pen­dent and self-suf­fi­cient infantry unit.

Major Mark Sud­d­a­by was one of around 400 sol­diers from 1st Bat­tal­ion The Roy­al Reg­i­ment of Scot­land (1 SCOTS) who have been in Afghanistan for the last six months train­ing and men­tor­ing their col­leagues in the Afghan Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Forces. 

The bat­tal­ion arrived home at their base in Edin­burgh last week after hav­ing trans­ferred the respon­si­bil­i­ty of part­ner­ing an Afghan Nation­al Army brigade to the 1st Bat­tal­ion Irish Guards. See Relat­ed News for more on this trans­fer of authority. 

On their arrival in Edin­burgh, Com­mand­ing Offi­cer Lieu­tenant Colonel Char­lie Her­bert spoke of his pride in his sol­diers. He said: 

“They threw them­selves into it with com­plete heart and soul and I’m unbe­liev­ably proud of each and every one of them. We lived, we trained, we ate, we slept, we fought and some­times we bled along­side our Afghan colleagues. 

“The work is absolute­ly crit­i­cal. If we’re going to suc­ceed with this cam­paign — which we will — we’ve got to get the Afghan Army and the Afghan Police to the stage where they can take over secu­ri­ty and responsibility. 

“We worked very hard with them and we’ve got them to a point where they are now lead­ing oper­a­tions in Hel­mand. It’s been a suc­cess­ful tour and I think we’ve left behind a very rich legacy.” 

The bat­tal­ion lost one mem­ber dur­ing the deploy­ment, Lance Cor­po­ral Joseph Pool, who was killed in action fol­low­ing an exchange of fire with insur­gents on 5 Sep­tem­ber 2010. 

He was serv­ing as part of the Brigade Recon­nais­sance Force in Nad ‘Ali dis­trict. Lt Col Her­bert said: 

“I think as we come back and see our fam­i­lies, and to a cer­tain extent we cel­e­brate our return, it’s a time when our thoughts also wan­der to the fam­i­lies of those whose lives have changed for­ev­er, the sac­ri­fices that have been made. 

“It isn’t just those that have been killed. There are a num­ber of fine young men whose lives have changed with very, very seri­ous injuries. There’s def­i­nite­ly an ele­ment of sad­ness at this time.” 

Major Sud­d­a­by is a com­pa­ny com­man­der with 1 SCOTS who has been head­ing up an Advi­sor Team work­ing with the Afghan Nation­al Army’s 1st Kan­dak from 3rd Brigade, 215 Corps, in Nad ‘Ali. He has been blog­ging from Afghanistan on the UK Forces Afghanistan blog site — see Relat­ed Links. 

In his last post from Afghanistan he wrote: 

“It has been six months since I arrived in Nad ‘Ali. Six months of frus­tra­tions, suc­cess­es, set­backs and fatigue. Dur­ing that time, I like to think that 1st Kan­dak have ben­e­fit­ed from the brav­ery and tenac­i­ty of the Advi­sor Teams that I lead. Teams that have gone out every day with their Afghan counterparts. 

“Teams that have only been cer­tain of the uncer­tain­ty that comes with that first step out of the gate. Teams that have bat­tled their frus­tra­tions and set­backs to deliv­er my firm direc­tion: to devel­op 1st Kan­dak into an inde­pen­dent and self-suf­fi­cient infantry battalion. 

“Have the casu­al­ties and loss­es that we suf­fered been worth it? Is the Afghan Nation­al Army worth such a heavy price? I think so, yes. In fact, an emphat­ic yes. They must be. Because they are the future of this poor, war-rav­aged coun­try. A coun­try that has been the bat­tle­ground of oth­er nations for centuries. 

“Because, when we leave, they will stay and car­ry on the work of the count­less bat­tal­ions that have already come here and done their duty on behalf of the peo­ple of the Unit­ed Kingdom.” 

Major Sud­d­a­by also wrote about Oper­a­tion TOR SHEZADA (BLACK PRINCE), which he said dom­i­nat­ed activ­i­ty in August 2010. 

The oper­a­tion involved the seiz­ing and hold­ing of Sayed­abad, a small vil­lage in the most south­ern part of Nad ‘Ali dis­trict and the last to come under Afghan Gov­ern­ment con­trol. See Relat­ed News to read more about this operation. 

Major Sud­d­a­by said: 

“The oper­a­tion was two months in the plan­ning and when the time came to step off, it was into the blis­ter­ing heat and cloy­ing dust that we went. It was a 1st Bat­tal­ion The Duke of Lancaster’s Reg­i­ment oper­a­tion, close­ly sup­port­ed by 1st Kandak. 

“This put my Advi­sor Teams right on the front line. But they are used to that. After a night heli­copter inser­tion of two com­pa­nies and the clear­ance of the main routes south by two more, the oper­a­tion was com­plet­ed ahead of sched­ule and declared an impor­tant success. 

“The insur­gents fled the area, leav­ing us to defuse IEDs and build our secu­ri­ty out­posts. But, inevitably, they came back. So, the bat­tle for Sayed­abad con­tin­ues, with attacks against the out­posts and the fight to keep the main sup­ply routes open and free of IEDs. 

“Long after the media have moved on to oth­er things, the real bat­tle to pro­vide last­ing secu­ri­ty for this impor­tant pop­u­la­tion cen­tre goes on. There are no deci­sive vic­to­ries in a counter-insur­gency cam­paign; just grad­ual change as one side wears the oth­er into even­tu­al submission. 

“And brave mem­bers of the Afghan Nation­al Army [ANA], along with my Advi­sor Teams, are immersed in that ‘con­test­ed space’. They fight the con­di­tions, the iso­la­tion and aus­ter­i­ty of their liv­ing con­di­tions, as much as the insur­gents. So, Oper­a­tion TOR SHEZADA con­tin­ues, but at least we hold the ground now and at least we are set­ting the con­di­tions for a brighter future for the peo­ple who live there.” 

Major Sud­d­a­by said that the pri­or­i­ties now are to reopen the school and clinic: 

“After all, the peo­ple are the prize,” he said. “I think it comes back to my first impres­sions of this strange­ly beau­ti­ful if odd­ly alien land: the chil­dren. If we are here to do any­thing, it is to secure their future. And when we leave, our lega­cy must be passed on so that they can have a life free of indis­crim­i­nate IEDs, laid by fun­da­men­tal­ists that have lost both their reli­gion and their humanity. 

“If I ever doubt­ed our endeav­ours in Afghanistan — what some would call med­dling in the inter­nal affairs of a sov­er­eign state — I only have to think of those bright­ly clothed, wide-eyed chil­dren, end­less­ly ask­ing for ‘chok­lat’ and ‘peens’, with that look of abject plead­ing that they do so well. 

“Who is on their side? Which of the armed gangs of men actu­al­ly care about them and through them the future of this place? Well, from where I sit — high in a Jack­al armoured truck, dri­ving around this green and fer­tile dis­trict — it looks like us. 

“Armies don’t do peace bril­liant­ly well, but when there is no one else, who else is left? ISAF may not be per­fect, but it is hold­ing the line until the ANA can step up to this com­plex and mut­li-faceted task. I just hope that I have played my part in mak­ing these brave Afghan War­riors more able than they were to take that task on.” 

To read more of Major Suddaby’s blogs from Afghanistan vis­it the UK Forces Afghanistan blog site at Relat­ed Links. 

1 SCOTS are cur­rent­ly under­tak­ing a series of home­com­ing parades. They plan to march through Lin­lith­gow on Wednes­day 13 Octo­ber 2010, Col­in­ton on Fri­day 15 Octo­ber 2010 and Edin­burgh city cen­tre on Sat­ur­day 16 Octo­ber 2010. 

Press release
Min­istry of Defence, UK 

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