Afghan children help British engineers repair bridge

This news article was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

A group of Afghan children have helped British troops repair a collapsed bridge and get the southern Nahr-e Saraj area of Helmand moving again.

Soldiers from 9 Parachute Squadron Royal Engineers (RE) carried out the repairs on the bridge after being alerted to the damage and resulting problems by soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), who regularly patrol the area.

Following an initial assessment of the damage and the work required to make the crossing capable of carrying tractors once again, the necessary materials for the job were transported to nearby Checkpoint Perkha by the Paras.

To do this, they made several journeys by quad bike - the only vehicle capable of getting through the series of narrow tracks running between irrigated fields.

A team of six engineers, led by Lieutenant Keith McDougall, then began the task of building the new bridge.

Firstly the abutments were shored up with pickets and corrugated iron sheeting, then a deck was constructed, consisting of timber baulks held together with a giant iron staple and resting on sandbags.

Sapper Cameron Hume drew the short straw and entered the freezing water of the irrigation ditch to help position the pickets. His eventual comment of ‘I can no longer feel my hands’ prompted his removal to warm up a little in the winter morning sunshine before completing the job.

Meanwhile, a crowd of grateful locals gathered, showing great interest in the engineers’ work. A number of children amongst them needed no encouragement to get involved in the hammering of pickets into the ground, whilst others assisted with the filling of sandbags and removal of wooden tree trunks from the old bridge.

Lieutenant McDougall, Commander of 2 Troop, 9 Parachute Squadron RE, said:

The new bridge took several hours to construct but it was worth the effort. The finished product provides a wider and more robust structure than what was there before.

This is a classic combat engineer solution - fast from conception to the final product and robust. It will definitely help improve local people’s access to the fields, and help increase the favourable perception of us, the Afghan forces and the Afghan Government in the local area.

Captain Nick Mys, Second-in-Command of C (Bruneval) Company, 2 PARA, added:

I was really impressed by how quickly the engineers managed to get the bridge constructed from the initial requirement being identified, and we know from our patrols in the area that the locals are extremely grateful for the work.

Actions such as this have a profound effect on the perception of ISAF and the Afghan authorities we support.

Before leaving the area, not content with one bridge repair, the engineers proceeded to help some local farmers carry out a simpler fix on a second bridge, making it strong enough for tractors to cross safely.