Afghan troops, trained and mentored by British troops, have taken the lead in clearing insurgents from the rugged area of Shin Kalay, in Helmand province, in an overnight air assault operation.
Operation TOR KANJAK 5 (or ‘Black Thorn’ in English) was launched in the early hours of Tuesday morning, 7 December 2010. Designed as a clearance and search operation, its aim was to provide better security for the locals of Shin Kalay and its surrounding areas.
Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers, backed up by troops from Shropshire-based 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment (1 R IRISH), were inserted into the area under the cover of darkness, taking full advantage of the element of surprise.
The Afghan and British troops cleared compounds and insurgent firing points whilst others provided security for the flanks. Meanwhile, another group of Afghan soldiers, along with troops from Canterbury-based 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, cleared through the village.
Lieutenant Jonathon Green from 1 R IRISH, Lieutenant Abdul Matin from the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) and Sergeant Muhammed Udin from the ANA planned a joint patrol route passing through populated areas and firing points used by insurgents.
The ANA and the ANCOP used an interpreter to explain what they wanted to achieve and Lt Green then delivered his orders to his two section commanders, Corporals Alastair Craig and Kyle Scott, again using the interpreter so that the Afghans could follow how exactly the British forces planned to interpret their direction.
The ANA led from the front, taking advantage of their familiarity with the ground and people. The British troops deployed out to the flanks to provide overwatch and security for the lead elements. With the security in place, the ANCOP officers then moved out into surrounding fields and compounds to gain information and track down the insurgent elements.
Lt Green, 8 Platoon Commander, C Company, 1 R IRISH, said:
Very often the Afghan National Security Forces just need the reassurance of our presence to give them the confidence to get to grips with their role. Once that happens, the effect is noticeable - they know the local culture and ways, and once they’re off it’s hard to hold them back! They really are the future of the country and already they are so much more effective in dealing with the insurgency at the local level.
The ANCOP even held an impromptu public meeting outside the local shop for residents to come foward and inform on insurgent activity. This, combined with intelligence provided by Afghanistan’s National Directorate of Security, quickly bore fruit, with the capture and detention of a number of suspected insurgents.
Sergeant Udin said:
My ANA warriors have worked closely both with the British soldiers and the ANCOP policemen. This has been very effective as we each bring different skills. ISAF have assisted with the resources for the operation, the ANCOP are highly trained policemen and have detained a lot of suspects, and my warriors have dominated the ground to prevent the Taliban from attacking civilians or security forces during the operation.
ANCOP officer, Lieutenant Colonel Said Mahmand, added:
This was real teamwork - the Afghan National Army, the Afghan National Civil Order Police and the National Directorate of Security all working together, with the British troops giving us their support. We have known where the insurgents were operating in this area. We can identify people from other areas by the differences in their clothes, which is a skill ISAF do not have. We have worked, with the support of ISAF, to bring peace and security to this area and we made many arrests.
While the police detained a number of individuals with suspected links to the insurgency, Afghan troops and their British partners took the opportunity to spend a prolonged period engaging with local people, consulting them on their needs - and the atmosphere turned noticeably more positive.
This culminated in the District Governor of Nad ‘Ali, Habibullah Shamalani, conducting his first shura (traditional Afghan public meeting) in the area for two years. It took place in Shin Kalay’s main mosque and was attended by more than 200 people.
It transpired that locals had been very concerned about the presence of insurgents but many felt powerless to stop them from firing on their compounds. Some had also been worried about speaking to the ANCOP both for fear of being mistaken for insurgents and for fear of retribution by the real insurgents. The Afghan and British forces were able to reassure the local people, as well as offer assistance with some community projects including the clearance of irrigation ditches.
With their trust in the ANCOP restored, locals requested new ways of informing them about insurgent movements in the area - telephone numbers were exchanged and the police officers offered advice on ways for locals to deter insurgents from coming into their compounds.
Major Greg Murphy, Officer Commanding D Company, 1 R IRISH, said:
Afghan security forces were very much the lead on this operation. The highlight of this is that the Governor’s shura was able to take place without any ISAF security presence at all. It was fantastic to be a part of this and see the Afghan police take ownership of their own security.
I think the most important thing to take away from this operation is that when you go out on the ground, meeting the people of Afghanistan, you now see physical evidence that we are having a positive effect on the whole situation.