OMID HAFT was the biggest operation conducted by Task Force Helmand (TFH) since the start of the HERRICK 14 deployment back in April.
The planning for OMID HAFT began several weeks ago. Since then, elements of TFH, built around 3 Commando Brigade, have been working closely with 6th Kandak (Battalion), 3rd Brigade, 215th Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) to co-ordinate an operation to rid the Kopak, Malgir and Loy Mandeh areas of Nahr-e Saraj of insurgent activity and extend the safe, protected community up to the Nahr-e Bughra canal.
Being the only Army infantry battalion in 3 Commando Brigade, 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) has played an important part alongside sappers from the TFH Engineer Group.
Having successfully pushed the insurgents back, 1 RIFLES has been working with members of the TFH Engineer Group and the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP) to stop them returning and provide lasting security.
Soon after securing the area, the forces moved to establish a number of checkpoints (CPs) in the area, to give ISAF and Afghan forces a base from which to operate and monitor security.
Lieutenant Mark Dormon is the commander of 5 Platoon, B Company, 1 RIFLES, who provided security for the engineers to establish CP Guldarra, one of the first to be built:
From the occupation of the compound at first light it became clear that we were in a vitally important spot,” said Lt Dormon. “We were able to assist the AUP in setting up the checkpoint and then support them as they developed their understanding of the area.
Very quickly, the AUP used their excellent knowledge of the area and local people, as well as their new policing skills, to make a number of significant finds of weapons and explosives.
In one particular find, there was a substantial amount of bomb-making components, including a large amount of homemade explosives and pressure plates. All the items were examined by British counter-IED operators before being destroyed to prevent them falling back into the hands of insurgents who could use them against British and Afghan forces and civilians.
After just a few days the AUP were firmly established in the CP and able to carry out the searches and checks without the help of 5 Platoon. Lt Dormon said he was impressed with their skills:
After the IED find, we felt confident that the AUP were able to provide the security at the CP themselves. I’ve been impressed by their capability and commitment, and the local population’s confidence has also increased knowing the Afghan Police are there to protect them.
A number of other checkpoints have been established in the area and, over time, those too will be handed over to the Afghans:
Our role here is to help facilitate the transfer of security to the Afghan National Security Forces, and our experience over the last week or so with the AUP at CP Guldarra has been extremely positive,” said Lt Dormon. “We’re looking forward to replicating the success here in other parts of Nahr-e Saraj.
As well as building CPs, Royal Engineers from the TFH Engineer Group, working as part of the Combined Force Nahr-e Saraj (South) Battle Ggroup, have been busy building a bridge over the Nahr-e Bughra canal. More than 150 military engineers were involved in Operation OMID HAFT, including 40 from the ANA.
Previously, tunnels under the canal had been used by locals to move from one district into another, but they were also used by insurgents to travel undetected. As part of Operation OMID HAFT, the engineers blocked off the tunnels under the water, restricting the movement of insurgents, and erected two bridges over the canal to ensure that locals can still move freely and safely from one area to another.
The first bridge was a temporary measure, put in place until a more permanent one was able to be constructed. The parts for the bridge were moved from the UK’s main base at Camp Bastion by road. The 45-metre bridge took a team of engineers ten days to build and secure in place over the water. In addition, to put the sections together and move them out over the canal, the engineers also had to put road decking in place and fit ramps either side to allow traffic to drive on and off the crossing.
Major Simon Bradley is the Officer Commanding 39 Armoured Engineer Squadron (39 AES), 24 Commando Engineer Regiment - an expeditionary Royal Engineers unit which supports 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines. He said:
This is the longest bridge of its kind that’s been built in Helmand so it’s been a real achievement. Teamwork is absolutely vital and I’m extremely proud of what the team has done in such a short time. Despite temperatures reaching 58 degrees Celsius, the sappers worked for hours in the blazing sun moving the sections into place.
This bridge is vitally important. It not only opens up a trade route for locals, it enables them to move freely and safely. It also allows ISAF and Afghan troops to move north of the canal to disrupt insurgent activity up there.
Commanding Officer of the TFH Engineer Group, Lieutenant Colonel Leigh Tingey, echoed Major Bradley’s praise of the engineers’ efforts:
I am constantly impressed and humbled by the level of work and commitment those guys show in temperatures which get close to 60 degrees [Celsius] at times,” he said. “They’re there in body armour and helmets cracking on with the job. Very impressive stuff.
The bridge has been named HAFT, which means seven, after the operation that enabled its creation:
The success of OMID HAFT has been essential in the part it has played in this bridge-build,” said Second Lieutenant Tom Foote, 8 Troop Commander, 39 AES.
The fact that this area is now secure means that we’re able to work freely, engage with the local nationals and really sell this bridge as a good point for them.
During the construction of the bridge, Afghan soldiers provided security around the site, which allowed the engineers to focus solely on completing the bridge:
The Afghan National Army has done a brilliant job,” said Sergeant Paul McGee, the reconnaissance sergeant for 8 Troop, 39 AES. “We’ve had complete freedom of movement around the bridge site and haven’t had to worry about security at all.
Not only did the ANA provide security for the building of the bridge, they also built four vehicle checkpoints along Route Neptune, the road adjacent to the canal, and cleared the route of improvised explosive devices:
We wanted to control the ingress and egress of the evolving protected community,” said Lt Col Tingey. “The best way to do that is to keep a very close eye on who was moving into the protected community and who was leaving. By putting a checkpoint here and a bridge here, and by denying the tunnel that is down the canal, it absolutely denies them freedom to manoeuvre from the [farmland] to the protected community across the canal.
To inform local people about the bridge, 1 RIFLES’ Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel James de la Billiere, and his Afghan counterpart, the Commander of 6th Kandak of the ANA’s 3/215 Brigade, Lt Col Abdul Sboor, hosted an important shura for villagers alongside District Community Council (DCC) members Balool Khan and Mohamed Nasim Khan.
During the meeting, which was also attended by the TFH Commander, Brigadier Ed Davis, and the US Commander of Regional Command (South West), Major General John Toolan, local residents discussed their concerns for the area, and listened to the commanders and councillors explain the security benefits offered by the new bridge.
Major Paul Kyte is the Officer Commanding at CP Salaang, also established as part of OMID HAFT:
The number of locals who attended the shura, in an area which has only just come under government control, was really encouraging,” he said. “Having the DCC members there, standing side by side with the ISAF and Afghan commanders, showed locals that we’re all in this together and determined to work together to make locals’ lives better.
With early success such as this we can only hope to build on such promising support,” he added.
Lt Col Tingey said:
This operation has had a significant impact, denying the insurgents freedom of manoeuvre in the area. I’m impressed by the commitment and level of work of the engineers who’ve worked alongside their Afghan colleagues to complete this complex task in difficult conditions.
A full range of in-theatre Royal Air Force assets were used to prepare the battlespace for the operation, with sorties flown by Tornado GR4s from 617 Squadron and Kandahar-based Reapers from 39 Squadron.
See tomorrow’s story for a full report on the RAF’s contribution to the operation.