The key access road Route 601 is an important communications route that connects Lashkar Gah in Helmand with the city of Kandahar to the east. The metalled road is a key transport and commercial link for both local nationals and ISAF and Afghan forces.
Based in a patrol base (PB) halfway along the road the British soldiers regularly patrol both on foot and in Mastiff and Jackal armoured vehicles to ensure that no improvised explosive devices or blockages are present on the road or in the surrounding area.
Daily checks include inspecting culverts along the route, setting up vehicle checkpoints to ensure that insurgents are not using the road as a supply route, and working with the Afghan National Police (ANP) to deal with breakdowns or the occasional road traffic accident.
The PB commander, Captain Neil Gow, 1 SG, explained:
We do two things - foot patrols are for the immediate security of the vicinity of where we are around the PB and for the local population.
It also allows us to build up as much information as we can from the ground about what is going on… When we first moved here we had a lot of information about where the problems were, where the hot spots were.
By going out on the ground firstly you can see what is going on, and secondly it gives you a chance to see if things are improving, or if things have changed for the better.
We also do deliberate patrols up the road where we take our wagons, do culvert checks and speak to the ANP who are at different checkpoints along the road.
By being here and having to do administration runs and just being around the area makes a difference… it acts as a deterrent.
In addition to keeping the road open, the soldiers have been working with the local villagers along Route 601 on redevelopment projects.
Trooper Chris Gregory, RDG, said:
The Taliban weren’t interested in the locals too much. We went down to see [the locals] and said we could offer projects where we pay them to work on their own fields to give them good water supplies so they can grow better crops and basically improve their standard of living.
Although the new patrol base has only been established for a few months it is already making a difference to the communities that live alongside and use the road:
It’s been really positive around the immediate vicinity. It has made a big difference, you can tell, people come up to you and say since we’ve been here they’ve had no drama with the Taliban,” said Captain Gow.
Everyone along the 601, along the road, I’d say 200, maybe 500 metres either side of the road, seems to be very content with us being here.
Clearly there are a few hot spots as you head further east, but it has been a warm and welcome reception.