The operation, codenamed ZANGAL HAF (Zangal Hope) after the village close to where the operation would take place, was aimed at disrupting insurgents in the Nahr-e Saraj district, where the 1 RIFLES Battle Group is based.
Early on the morning of the operation, soldiers from A Company (A Coy), 1 RIFLES, and the AUP patrolmen boarded Chinook helicopters in Camp Bastion and flew deep into the Green Zone, behind enemy lines.
With the AUP in the lead, the combined force of soldiers and policemen moved towards their intended target.
With temperatures rising fast under the Helmand sun, mud-clogged fields underfoot, and endless rows of seven-foot-high (2.1m), densely packed maize and corn ‘jungles’, progress was slow and draining.
The operation took place during the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims fast between sunrise and sunset. Their religion means that the AUP are unable to eat or drink during the day and that can prevent them from taking part in operations.
However, with permission from Lieutenant Colonel Masloom, who works in Nahidullah, the patrolmen opted to break their fast so they could play a key role in securing the area.
Major Mirza Khan, the AUP Commander, said:
We are responsible for the safety of the people. If we do not work during Ramadan, the people will not be safe. The insurgent does not respect Ramadan and so we must work to stop him.
While moving through the tough terrain, the focus for the AUP was to check and clear compounds, searching for evidence of insurgent activity. As the patrol pushed forward, the lack of people was noticeable and it was also eerily quiet - often a sure sign of insurgent presence.
The AUP led the searches of a number of compounds that were suspected of being Taliban safe houses which they use as bomb factories and for hiding themselves and their weapons. During this dangerous part of the operation soldiers from 1 RIFLES were in close support and provided a secure cordon to allow the searches to be carried out as safely as possible.
As they searched one of the compounds, there was a massive explosion.
One of the patrolmen had triggered an improvised explosive device which had been hidden in a building. Immediately, his AUP colleagues and soldiers from A Coy went to his aid, being careful not to set off any secondary devices that might be lying in wait.
After being treated at the scene by the medics, the patrolman was airlifted to hospital in Camp Bastion by the Medical Emergency Response Team. Sadly though, despite treatment, he died of his injuries.
Despite the loss of one of their comrades, the AUP’s resolve remained strong and the patrolmen continued their mission to clear compounds for the remainder of the day.
Major Karl Boswell, the Officer Commanding A Coy, said:
I take my hat off to them, they are phenomenal and they are still going at it despite having taken a casualty.
As the operation continued the AUP found a small amount of homemade explosive (HME). Significantly the HME discovered was an ammonium nitrate mix rather than an aluminium nitrate mix. This is a sub-standard explosive and indicates further that the good work of the Afghan security forces and ISAF is disrupting the supply of high grade explosive material to the Taliban.
As the operation moved into the closing phase and the patrol was less than a kilometre from Patrol Base 4, where the AUP and A Company are based, the enemy launched an ambush and the patrol came under sustained fire.
Rifleman James Clark, one of those caught up in the fire fight, said:
The rounds were coming in close, they were landing at our feet and flying just over our heads. We managed to get into some cover but then we were shot at from the rear too.
There are all sorts of emotions going through your mind,” he continued. “I wouldn’t say I was scared, but you are anxious as to whether or not the rounds are coming near you.
For 45 minutes, the patrol was pinned down by the enemy fire. Throughout, the AUP took the lead, giving directions on how to manoeuvre to counter the attack. A Coy called in support from their colleagues back at base, who put a sniper team in place to target the insurgents. Eventually, the AUP and Riflemen were able to extract back to the safety of Patrol Base 4.
Ten hours after they had lifted off from Camp Bastion, the patrol reflected on the events of the day and the loss of one of their colleagues.
Rifleman Clark said:
When the shooting started, everyone did their drills perfectly and everyone took a knee and didn’t fire until they had identified the firing point. Everyone held it together really well and there was no panic or anything like that, it was just like they were on an exercise really.
Major Karl Boswell said he was impressed by the way the AUP handled themselves during the operation:
Given this was their first helicopter assault, the AUP were professional and robust, leading throughout. They are making real progress and they have performed outstandingly. This has been a massive step forward for them
Major Khan said:
ISAF helped us, they are our brothers and we work well together. We did not catch the Taliban today but that does not matter because he knows we are after him and we must not give him space to breathe and be near the people.
My men did very well today despite our casualty and we will get better soon with more ISAF training so that we are ready when ISAF go home.