Soldiers from 5th Battalion The Rifles (5 RIFLES) have joined Afghan security forces in an operation to clear a key insurgent 'safe haven' in Helmand province, Afghanistan.
Around one hundred British troops from 5 RIFLES teamed up with 200 warriors from the 2nd Kandak of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and patrolmen from the Afghan National Police (ANP) to drive the insurgency from Kopak, in the Nahr-e Saraj district.
The district is one of three in Helmand where British troops are deployed, and the last where Task Force Helmand retains the lead for security after the successful transition of Nad ‘Ali and Lashkar Gah to Afghan control.
Operation KAPCHA ZHRANDAGARAY targeted a 16-square-kilometre area that has seen little influence from the Afghan authorities so far.
The clearance operation saw Afghan bomb disposal experts discover and destroy 10 improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and allowed engineers to build five new checkpoints for Afghan police to hold the territory.
The area was heavily fought over as recently as last summer - as featured in the Channel 5 television programme ‘Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan’.
Lieutenant Colonel Tom Copinger-Symes, the Commanding Officer of 5 RIFLES, said the insurgency had been strong in the area just four months ago, with insurgents regularly firing on troops and a high IED-threat targeting ISAF and Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).
But, as the number of patrols with the ANA increased, insurgent activity fell away, and more areas have been handed over to Afghan security control, bringing greater freedom of movement.
Lt Col Copinger-Symes said the success of the operation had seen District Governor Habibullah Khan visit the area for the first time and speak to local elders about the support the Afghan Government can provide; a meeting seen as ‘groundbreaking’ by Afghan officials.
Security, stability, education, commerce and a normal way of life are key to development, and this must be led by the Afghans themselves. It is the right time to clear Kopak of insurgents, led by the Afghan National Security Forces with International Security Assistance Force troops in support, which allows the police to hold areas.
The new checkpoints will allow more freedom of movement for the locals, and, more importantly, it will allow the Afghan Government to connect with the people and identify requirements for development. This will be the first step in creating long-term Afghan security in Kopak, both for now and for long after ISAF have left.
Lieutenant Colonel Nazamudin, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Kandak of the Afghan National Army, said:
My warriors are working with the ANP and ISAF to create conditions to allow checkpoints to be built around Kopak and for security to return to this area. The police commissioner will be in place and the local Afghans are very happy with our presence.
I have seen the changes over the years. The insurgents are weakened, the ANSF are growing stronger in presence, and the people are more willing to engage and let us know what is going on.
Major Matt Baker, Officer Commanding D Company, 5 RIFLES, said there had been a lot of change in the area since November last year:
Progress since November has seen the insurgency defeated in the Babaji area and we have denied the insurgent an enduring presence here,” he said.
The winter has seen low crops in fields, meaning good visibility for us to push out more patrols with the Afghans and interact with the local nationals.
The clearing of Kopak was not a realistic event just a few months ago, but now we have actually carried that out with the ANSF. It is a big step.