In his latest blog, Private Graham 'T' Thurston, a British soldier from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (1 PWRR), currently deployed to Afghanistan, gives an account of life in a checkpoint on the front line in Helmand province.
Jeker is a relatively new checkpoint and packed with the latest technology to help the patrols get on the ground with as much intelligence and knowledge as possible. We also have BFBS [British Forces Broadcasting Service] TV and two internet computers and this gives us a good change to relax in the welfare tent that doubles up as a cookhouse.
The other two B Company checkpoints aren’t as lucky but they get up about once a week and check their mail and chill out. With solar showers and toilets with a door (poo in a bag variety) this checkpoint is classed as a luxury here in the Green Zone.
We are surrounded here by farms with deep irrigation ditches. These range from ones you can step over to ones that come up over chest height and you have to wade through. The banks are often very steep and it’s impossible to get out without being dragged out by your mates on your stomach because it’s so slippery and muddy.
The locals are very happy that we are in the area and help us out by walking over the bridges to prove they have not got IEDs [improvised explosive devices] or putting down logs for us to make a crossing. This may be just to stop us walking in their crops but it strengthens our relationship with the locals and helps us with our patrols and shows who we can trust in the population.
As a mixed platoon, half from 2 RIFLES [2nd Battalion The Rifles] and half from 1 PWRR, the way we do things is the same as if we were all from the same unit.
We split patrolling and guards and duties so that when you come in off patrol you can do admin and make sure your kit is 100 per cent in working order. This is important for your body as well or it will start to go down and fatigue will set in and that leads to a harder time for all.
It has been quite quiet here and the locals are still busy with the harvest. But we must never let complacency set in. That said, on a recent foot patrol to a local village and after a shura (meeting with village elders) we headed north and, in a village in the south, 5 Platoon were moving away when they were fired upon.
The contact was short but there was a lot of firepower used. We moved to support but 5 Platoon withdrew back to their checkpoint [CP].
Back in CP Jeker we checked ourselves over and no-one was hurt in the fire fight, but the insurgents had slipped away.
Dropped in by helicopter
With the winter closing in fast, it appears that the main fighting season is coming to an end. Patrolling is becoming easier; however selecting totally new routes to patrol is becoming more difficult as time goes on.
A recent operation into a small village south of the River Helmand saw us patrolling into an area not previously visited by ISAF. We had heard that the village was being used by insurgents as a bed-down location and as an area to store weapons and IEDs.
We were dropped into the village by helicopter which allowed us to move in quickly. We entered the village with three ISAF multiples and three ANA [Afghan National Army] multiples along with the Officer Commanding’s group, with me being in Sergeant Janes’ multiple.
There were a lot of soldiers on the ground which allowed us to quickly secure the outer compounds. With the ANA searching, we moved through the main group of compounds very quickly.
Once the ANA had completed their task, Sergeant Janes moved us to a bridge crossing; however as soon as we moved we thought we saw an insurgent scout running away. The ANA went in pursuit and soon caught the runner who was found to have IED components in his possession.
After talking to a local elder about the detainee, it was decided to send the man to Camp Bastion for further questioning. With all the moving parts working well, a lot of intelligence gained and one less insurgent to worry about, this operation was seen as a success.
As the tour has gone on, Corporal Watson, an attachment from 5 RIFLES [5th Battalion The Rifles], has become very good at using the HIIDE [Handheld Interagency Identity Detection Equipment] biometric enrolment camera. As such we are using this kit to good effect on most patrols. In general the locals are happy to give up a few minutes of their time to be enrolled onto the system in order to help keep their community safe.
Private Graham ‘T’ Thurston serves with 5 Platoon, B Company, 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment - known as the ‘Tigers’ - in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province as part of the 5 RIFLES Battle Group.