Getting ready for a bad day in Helmand
Saturday, 21 July 2012 is the dateline. GETTING READY FOR A BAD DAY IN HELMAND
A ‘bad day in Helmand’ – complete with explosions, snipers and angry locals – was recreated in England through an Army training exercise.
And Cumbrian soldiers were right at the front of the action as the 1st Battalion the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment prepares for a potential deployment to Afghanistan.
Entitled Exercise Spring Lion it took place in Catterick in North Yorkshire, where the regiment which recruits from across the north west of England is based.
When the News & Star visited the battalion, they were working in forest and farmland around the area with around 240 soldiers and support staff taking part, along with a number of armoured patrol vehicles, on a baking hot summer day.
The troops had to deal with a variety of challenges as they came under attack from insurgents.
One of most important men in getting it all organised was 26-year-old Penrith native Captain Dan Ellis, the battalion’s training officer.
Capt Ellis said it was great preparation for heading into any conflict, adding that they were raring to get going.
“To be honest we are chomping at the bit,” he said. “The training we have is that good and you spend that much time in training that you want to get out and do it.”
Capt Ellis has been in the Army for eight years and has seen service both in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is shortly due to take over as the battalion’s adjutant, which will see him given heavy responsibilities for its day-to-day operations.
However, despite this experience, nerves do still set in at the thought of heading off to war.
“I think you would be a liar if you said you didn’t get a little anxious,” he said.
The regiment’s recruitment area takes in cities like Liverpool and Manchester as well as all of Lancashire and Cumbria.
But Capt Ellis says they all work well together. “It’s the same sort of breed of bloke,” he said.
The soldiers were split into two groups, known as troops, entitled Burma and Corunna.
Thursday’s action began in woodland where members of Corunna troop practiced their drills while coming under attack from the enemy, firing at them from above their position.
At the bottom of the woodland was a road and to retreat back there would have exposed the soldiers, making them easy targets.
They had to figure out a way to deal with the enemy without putting themselves in greater danger.
Staying under the cover of the trees, they moved to the edge of the forest.
After receiving instructions from their commanders, two thirds of the men started moving through the woodland with the rest staying behind to provide cover.
After receiving signals from the men in front, the rest followed on and all of the soldiers then climbed to the enemy position.
This simulates a common experience in Helmand for British soldiers.
Several Cumbrians were involved.
One of the newest recruits, 25-year-old William Taylforth, from Kendal who holds the rank of Kingman, the regiment’s equivalent to Private and joined the Army eight months ago, was pleased with what he was learning.
He said: “It’s different to what we’ve been taught, there are a lot of new things to learn.
“It’s quite interesting stuff really. It makes you think differently.”
Burma troop, meanwhile, had a very different challenge.
They were told about a ‘high value target’ holding drugs, weapons and money hiding out in a farmhouse.
Surrounding the building were a combination of armed insurgents, spotters, farmers and innocent civilians.
To allow the troop to maintain a realistic element of surprise, the commanders were given carte blanche to decide how to deal with this situation.
Once again, Cumbrians formed a big part of the mission.
Corporal Anthony Nugent, 26, of Botcherby, Carlisle, was one of them.
He completed a tour of duty in Afghanistan in 2010 and also served in Iraq.
However, he still sees this kind of training as essential as the situation in the country continues to change.
Experienced soldiers like Cpl Nugent play a big role in getting new recruits ready for their first tour in this training.
“It’s about getting them all up to the same level so we are all hitting the ground with the same level,” he said.
The training is for a possible deployment to Afghanistan but would be appropriate for other confilcts.
“You train for a war, not the war,” explained Cpl Nugent.
Kingsman Peter Dobson, 20, of Denton Holme, Carlisle, has only been in the Army six months and was also part of Burma troop.
He joined up after hearing about the good experience his older brother Dave, 23, had when he served for four years.
The operation has been a big step-up from basic training but he explained: “You just get your head down and crack on with it.”
The soldiers arrived at the farmhouse from its rear, where they came under attack. This gave them a chance to practice their battlefield casualty drills as several were targeted successfully.
They forced their way into the building by taking a ladder up to the first floor and heading in through a window.
The soldiers then rounded up the insurgents and collected evidence which would then be forwarded to the Afghani authorities to aid in a prosecution.
The enemy were played by support staff and soldiers who were injured.
One of the latter was Lance Corporal David Watson from Workington.
Currently recovering from a hernia operation, he had to deal with insurgents during a tour of duty in Iraq and used his experience there in this role. “You obviously know what to expect,” he said.
After they had secured the building, soldiers were sent outside to look for homemade bombs, known as improvised explosive devices. While on the hunt, there was an explosion, which saw them practice their drills for this kind of situation.
The battalion has been training for possible deployment since January.
Major Matt Adams, 35, its plans officer, said this training day was meant to represent a “bad day in Helmand” and that all of these situations were unlikely to arise at once. But practicing them together helps keep the soldiers on their toes.
The battalion’s commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Nick Wood, 42, was pleased with the performance of his men. “It’s not been too bad. They have still got a bit of a way to go but that’s why we are here.” News & Star | News | Getting ready for a bad day in Helmand
This is how the training goes.
This is how it was.
New footage reveals plight of first troops in Helmand
Previously unseen footage, to be broadcast in the BBC documentary series Our War, shows how the first major deployment of British troops sent to Helmand Province in 2006 was almost overrun and told to prepare for capture.
In the dead of night, July 2006, British soldiers stood on the roof of their compound in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, and watched a Hercules fly overhead.
The plane was carrying desperately needed supplies of food and ammunition.
But when it finally dropped its cargo, it landed about 2km beyond their base in Sangin - deep in enemy territory.
"Everyone's morale just plummeted," says Sergeant Trevor Coult. "It was just a misjudgement… but quite depressing."
“You're fighting on every level... it was proper soldiering”
Sergeant Major Jason Conway
Sgt Coult, of the Royal Irish Regiment, was one of a small number of British troops sent into Helmand in April 2006, based on reports that the Taliban had returned to the area and were becoming an increasing threat.
The first couple of weeks passed, and although aware they were being watched by local militia, the 30-strong platoon in Sangin were not involved in any fire fights and perceived the general threat to be low.
But suddenly - almost overnight - the situation changed. The Taliban appeared everywhere and began attacking all four British bases in the region.
The fighting lasted months instead of the expected weeks. Troops were trapped and running low on vital supplies of food and ammunition.
"You're fighting on every level," says Sergeant Major Jason Conway. "You're fighting for communications, you're fighting for awareness, you're fighting to see the enemy… it was proper soldiering."
Just getting men in and out of the area was, in itself, a huge operation. "To get relief in place, you ended up having to have about 200 soldiers pushed out around Sangin and they were all in fire fights," recalls Sgt Coult.
In the first three months in Helmand, 14 soldiers died - more than had been killed during the previous five years of the war in Afghanistan
The British army - now exposed and vulnerable - had to start thinking of other ways to keep the Taliban at arm's length.
One of the things they focussed on was the Taliban's fear of being filmed.
"We used empty ammo containers and sprayed them yellow or different colours. Then we used to stick poles up in the air and put bottles on the end of them, which looked like antennas. [The Taliban] were under the impression these were cameras," says Sgt Coult.
But such measures, although effective to a degree, were not enough to stop such an unexpected onslaught.
In a statement made in May 2011, General Sir Peter Wall said of the situation: "As is historically the case, it is not until you get on the ground and start braving it out, and really get to know what is what, that your intelligence picture will start to develop much more rapidly. That is historically the case in every conflict, and I have to say that, despite all of our high-techery, it will continue to be so."
Soldiers in Sangin were going for days without sleep, and after the failed drop of vital supplies in the middle of the night, some men were told to prepare for being overrun, captured and tortured.
Continue reading the main story
It's the worst place I've ever been to”
Sergeant Trevor Coult
Sgt Coult thought they were going to be captured on a number of occasions. But as a full corporal at the time, his sense of responsibility kicked in too.
"If you've got young lads below you and if you are in any sort of command position - even if you're feeling like rubbish - the last thing you want to do is let the guys below you see that you're falling apart. If they look up to you and you're starting to fall apart, then the battle's lost."
Faced with this increasingly dangerous situation, the British military were left with only one option… a massive bombing campaign, in the hope it would drive the Taliban back and save the men's lives.
"When you're on the ground… you know that the bullets are coming towards you and you get down low, but if they're coming from all sides, it's daunting to think there's nothing there to help you. But whenever the jets came in, it was a relief," recalls Sgt Coult.
But the bombing destroyed the homes and lives of many of the local people of Helmand and the soldiers were very conscious of this too. "You know you're inflicting systematic violence to the extreme," adds Sgt Major Conway.
At the end of their tour in Afghanistan, the men were finally able to tell their story of what happened in Helmand.
"It's the worst place I've ever been to," said Sgt Coult when he was interviewed shortly after leaving the area. "Baghdad's like a walk in the park compared to here."
As a result of their experiences in the province, British troop levels were increased, and Helmand quickly became known for being one of the toughest places to be stationed in.
"We all knew at the start that this thing would take a long time," says Sgt Coult. "My guys just didn't think it would be as hard, so quick.
"Everyone's learning a hell of a lot every day there and you learn a lot about yourself… The amount of brave things that everyone does is unbelievable." BBC News - New footage reveals plight of first troops in Helmand
Last edited by Ray; 22-07-12 at 12:29 AM.
Key Findings and recommendations
Helmand Province is critical terrain for both the enemy and coalition forces.
• Helmand contains important lines of communication for both enemy and friendly forces.
• it is an agricultural hub for afghanistan and economic nexus for the narcotics trade.
• The overwhelmingly-Pashtun population of Helmand shares ethnic and cultural ties to other areas of afghanistan and Pakistan.
• Recent gains enjoyed by insurgents in Helmand have made a deliberate and properly-resourced campaign by coalition forces that much more critical.
• The enemy system in Helmand is resourced and directed by the Quetta Shura Taliban (QST). The enemy is determined, well-organized, and entrenched in the province. In recent years, the enemy has shown its ability to adapt to the evolving conflict by developing and executing coherent campaign plans.
• The enemy system in Helmand Province can be divided into three distinct but related areas in the southern, central, and northern Helmand River valley.
• The southern Helmand River valley facilitates the movement of foreign fighters and weapons to central Helmand. It also facilitates the refining, storage and eventual movement of narcotics out of Helmand, mainly through the province’s southern border with Pakistan.
• central Helmand is the enemy’s center of gravity in the province. The heart of the enemy system is located west of the provincial capital of lashkar gah and around the province’s economic center of gereshk in the nahri Sarraj district.
• The enemy system in northern Helmand is entrenched along the Helmand and musa Qala rivers, in and around the fertile farmland mainly used for opium cultivation.
Success in Helmand requires a comprehensive population-centric counterinsurgency campaign that is properly resourced and executed. Such a campaign seeks to maximize the net effect of limited resources in critical areas by protecting and positively influencing the population. coalition forces cannot be everywhere and prioritizing objectives is essential.
Given limited resources, coalition efforts must focus on the critical population centers. for the enemy and indeed, the coalition, the most critical population centers in the province are lashkar gah, gereshk, nad ali, nawa, garmser, Sangin, musa Qala, and Kajaki.
Unity of effort is vital and operations must be mutually-reinforcing in order to achieve maximum impact. coalition forces must work together to execute a properly coordinated counterinsurgency campaign or their efforts will fail to achieve decisive effects.
• over the past several years, coalition forces have engaged the insurgency through targeted raids, designed to push insurgents out of a given area. The result has been operations that temporarily clear an area but fail to prevent the return of insurgents.
The role and responsibilities of the afghan national Security forces (anSf) must be clearly articulated. There has been an overreliance on the afghan national Police (anP) in Helmand. The anP are simply not equipped for the combat-intensive initial phases of counterinsurgency. The appropriate role for the anP should be maintaining order once the insurgency has been reduced to a
manageable level and effective rule of law has been established.
The afghan national army (ana) is appropriate for the combat-intensive phases of counterinsurgency, though ana soldiers are not present in sufficient numbers in Helmand. growing the size of the ana and advancing its capacity to carry out mission-critical counterinsurgency operations in Helmand will help to relieve some of the burden that is currently shouldered by coalition forces. http://www.understandingwar.org/site...HelmandPDF.pdf
And this is the reality!
On his flight back from Helmand, David Cameron should think about the risks he is taking with cuts to our armed forces
Every day I receive an email from the MoD press office – or ‘Defence Media Centre’ as it is now, soullessly, known (like so much else in the MoD). I rarely open them. They appear to be written by someone on work experience.
Either that or by an agent of some malevolent power that seeks to undermine the nation’s confidence by inviting derision.
I made an exception today. The reason was threefold: first, I heard that the Prime Minister was in Helmand; secondly, the news this morning of the worsening G4S fiasco was enough to make one weep; and thirdly, I had received an email from my elder daughter, who had just flown to New York on business.
This is what she wrote: 'There were 5 British soldiers on my plane, all with at least one limb missing.
One chap had 2 legs and an eye missing and the other had 2 legs and an arm missing. I chatted to the latter about ear defenders and that you'd not worn them in your day. He said they didn't wear them much either except he wore them the day he got blown up, "which was good otherwise I'd be deaf as well!"
And they all fell about laughing. I stood at the carousel with them, and you know what? – they might have most of their limbs missing but soldiers will always be soldiers. All the laughing and practical jokes and winding each other up.... It's just the same.'
She’d been born on an army ‘patch’, and lived on them until she was twenty.
So I decided to open the email from the MoD. This is how it began:
'David Cameron has travelled to Helmand province in Afghanistan to talk to troops and find out more about the transfer of security responsibility to Afghan forces.
'Mr Cameron began his trip with a tour of Camp Bastion, the UK's largest base in Afghanistan, before he visited front line troops from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment at their Shawqat base in Nad 'Ali. He later saw a provincial reconstruction team in Lashkar Gah.
'Asked about major reductions in troop numbers, the Prime Minister said it had been a difficult decision to make but insisted the coalition needed a Defence Budget which made sense.'
See what I mean about work experience? No civil servant in my day in the MoD would have been so poorly-schooled as to put an undefining article after ‘Defence Budget’.
But then I wondered, was this in fact a case of weasel wording – the sort that Bill Clinton went in for? The Coalition most certainly does need a defence budget, but it needs one that makes sense, not [,] which makes sense.
Quibbling? I don’t think so. For at the moment we do indeed have a 'defence budget [,] which makes sense'; but that's about all. We don't have a ‘defence budget that makes sense’.
I had been thinking a great deal about the cuts to the Army since they were announced last week.
They seem just to have passed – a little local difficulty in the Commons, as the Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, made his statement, but otherwise nothing much. The media generally were pretty lightweight about it.
The longest discussion of the cuts, as far as I can discern, took place on Voice of Russia (aka Radio Moscow): Richard Norton-Taylor of the Guardian, the no-nonsense Colonel Richard Kemp – and me. Forty minutes. I doubt that the BBC's coverage in aggregate beat it.
You’ve got to wonder, as our old cellarman used to say.
David Cameron has just presided over a dismantling of our military capability without parallel since 1698. If that sounds bufferish, I’ll re-state it, bringing it more up-to-date. John Major hamstrung the Army with ‘Options for Change’; Blair-Brown worked it and bled it into to a state of collapse; Cameron is now putting it into the knacker’s yard.
And he is buying the bullshit that, when the time comes, the reserves can revive the ailing beast.
Let me put it unequivocally: the reserves don't have the quality to do this; they will not be able to recruit the numbers; employers/employees will not be able to make available for operations the numbers required - some 30% of the deployed force after 24 months.
I sincerely hope that I am wrong. I sincerely hope that all our history these past 350 years, which points to the vacuity of the plan, is irrelevant. I fervently hope that the future will indeed be miraculously different because Mr Cameron is in the driving seat.
But let us consider the history of the past week alone.
The internationally humiliating and nationally dispiriting farce that is our Olympics security, which will be saved only by the intervention of the better part of two brigades of troops, should make the Prime Minister think again about the timetable of his – yes, his – cuts.
By all means, Mr Cameron, spend a fortune on trying to recruit a reservist force of 30,000 to make up for the 20,000 cuts in regular manpower, but do not lay off any more troops until you can prove it can be done.
You have seen the limits of the voluntary principle in the shambles of G4S. You have seen how the Army has come to the aid of the nation’s reputation (and yours, Mr Cameron).
And in Afghanistan this week you have seen what an asset this country has in its Army – in its Armed Forces in general.
So please, Prime Minster, remember that no review of commitments or the threat has concluded that we can cut our Army by 20,000. It is merely an aspiration that we can risk doing so by replacing them with reservists.
Tell the MoD, therefore, that you are going to find them the money to put with the contingency reserve that the clever Mr Hammond has been able to create, to halt any further redundancies until we’re certain the reservist plan can work.
You are the first minister of a coalition, of course. But you are also a Conservative, Mr Cameron: every instinct therefore should be to safeguard what is best until what is better can be certain.
Read more: On his flight back from Helmand, David Cameron should think about the risks he is taking with cuts to our armed forces | Mail Online
Last edited by Ray; 22-07-12 at 12:38 AM.
If only Britain spent as much of its GDP as America. We're still 2.6 as is India on 2.5. America is 4.7. List of countries by military expenditures - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
British spending on defence:
That is OK.
But the brunt is borne by the British soldiers in the field.
I only sympathise with them.
Poor sods left to fend for themselves on guts and wits.
What was your experience?
That is OK.It's not so bad in Bastion, Kabul, Lash or even Kandahar. FOB's can be pretty grim
But the brunt is borne by the British soldiers in the field.
I only sympathise with them.
Poor sods left to fend for themselves on guts and wits.
What was your experience?
Enough not to want to go back
What is FOB?
In shipping, it is Freight On Board.
What is FOB?Sob has it, Forward Operating Base and Bastion etc are Forward Mounting Bases (FMB's)
In shipping, it is Freight On Board.
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