The operation, into the settlement of Tor Ghai in the Nahr-e Saraj district, was led by 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), with support from troops from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA), The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS), and Afghan National Army soldiers.
Since last year’s Operation PANCHAI PALANG (PANTHER’S CLAW), British forces have built a series of patrol bases along Route Trident, a key route linking the cities of Lashkar Gah and Gereshk, but this is the first time that British and Afghan forces have driven this deep into Nahr-e Saraj’s ‘Green Zone’ to establish an enduring presence.
The troops began the operation by marching on foot through ice-cold irrigation ditches, across undulating terrain, and over 10-foot-high (3m) compound walls through the night. Carrying kit weighing around 50kg, the troops were in position before first light. As the sun rose and visibility following a sandstorm improved, the advance into Tor Ghai, a known area of insurgent activity, could commence.
The advance was led on the ground by the Commanding Officer of 2 PARA, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harrison. Approaching the village from the west, B Company, 5 SCOTS, were the first to come under insurgent small arms fire as they established a presence in the western outskirts of the village to block any exit routes.
As E Company and the Patrols Platoon advanced to the north and north east of the village, they too were ‘contacted’ by insurgent rounds.
For around 30 minutes, all sub-units involved in the operation were engaged by insurgents. But, significantly, as it became clear that the Afghan National Army was arriving in large numbers, along with further British support, the fight was not sustained and the insurgents retreated.
As soon as the village was secured, the soldiers engaged in a shura (traditional Afghan meeting) with the influential elders of the village. During this time, the local nationals were handed Afghanistan flags by the Afghan National Army and the following message was broadcast by loudspeaker:
The Afghan National Army and ISAF are here to stay so we can provide security for the development that is coming to your village. You can come out now. This is a new time in your lives, please stay and support your village elders who are working to bring you the many benefits of governance.
The shura took place between two compounds in open ground in Tor Ghai and was attended by the village elders, the Commanding Officer of the Afghan National Army’s 6th Tolay, Colonel Sboor, and the Commanding Officer of 2 PARA.
During the discussions, a permanent Afghan National Army presence was welcomed by the elders. Projects were discussed to provide jobs and improve the quality of life for the community. This included plans for access to discounted vegetable seed for local farmers to use as an alternative to growing poppy.
The shura appears to have been very well-received by locals and, in the days following the operation, there have been several more shuras that have enabled people to raise their concerns.
Officer Commanding Information Operations with 2 PARA, Major Justin Tancrel, said:
The quiet discussions behind the scenes with village elders who risked their lives to talk to us really paid off. The Tor Ghai community has embraced the Afghan Government and are keen to receive the benefits.
Now that the 2 PARA Battle Group has established a presence in the community of Tor Ghai, work is underway to build checkpoints to provide security and prevent Taliban intimidation of the population.
Work is also underway to repair the local road network and to clear known areas of insurgent improvised explosive devices. Shuras will continue to understand how the partnered security presence can assist the Government in bringing development to the community of Tor Ghai.
Lieutenant Colonel Harrison said:
The extension of our security presence into this area is significant. We have struck a blow right into the heart of the insurgency in Nahr-e Saraj.
“Yesterday, this area was a command and control node for those who subjugated the Afghan people. Today, Afghan and British soldiers patrol together to bring security in order to open the door for development, education and the rule of law.”