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Nearly 1,000 British soldiers joined a major operation planned and led by Afghan security forces to clear insurgents from a Taliban heartland.
The British troops joined forces with 1,000 warriors from the Afghan National Army (ANA) and patrolmen from the Afghan Uniform Police (AUP) and the elite Afghan National Civil Order Police to clear insurgents from the area around Yakchal.
The area, known as an insurgent heartland, lies to the east of Helmand province between Lashkar Gah Durai and the bustling town of Gereshk in the Nahr-e Saraj district. Gereshk is a security priority for Afghan forces in the coming year and Yakchal is close to both Highway One and Route 601 - putting insurgents in an ideal position to attack Afghan and ISAF forces using the routes.
Operation NOW ROZ, or ‘New Year’, came just before today’s Afghan new year celebrations.
The operation was planned by Afghan National Army staff and was led by Brigadier General Sherin Shah, Commander of the 3rd Brigade of 215 Corps. It is the fourth major ANA operation in four months, with British troops deploying in support as part of the International Security Assistance Force.
The three-day operation saw Afghan National Army troops clear south through the Yakchal area over several days, with the police following behind to search and clear more than 200 compounds.
The Afghan troops detained two key improvised explosive device (IED) facilitators and made safe 44 IEDs. They also found seven bomb-making factories, and discovered over 145 kilograms of homemade explosives, 18 manufactured mines, 18 pressure-plate switches and 12 directional fragmentation charges.
The Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) also found another five weapon caches with mortar barrels and ammunition, five rocket-propelled grenades, long-barrelled weapons and grenades. The most exceptional discovery was a Taliban command compound - seeded with deadly IEDs rigged to detonate the building and contents if the compound was raided.
British troops from across Task Force Helmand contributed to the operation, but large-scale involvement came from the Queen’s Royal Hussars, 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (1 YORKS), and 2nd Battalion The Rifles (2 RIFLES), who form the Brigade Advisory Group and are permanently attached to the local ANA brigade, as well as armoured infantry troops from 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (3 YORKS) in Warrior armoured vehicles.
Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1 PWRR) deployed in their role as advisors to the Afghan police involved in the operation, while the ANA Reconnaissance Tolay (Company) and the Brigade Reconnaissance Force, manned by soldiers from the Queen’s Dragoon Guards and 1 YORKS, struck at insurgent targets to the south of the area of operations, supported by the Warthog armoured vehicle group.
Counter-improvised explosive device specialists assisted their Afghan counterparts while engineers from 35 Engineer Regiment mentored Afghan engineers building a new checkpoint to maintain security in the area.
The soldiers on the ground were also boosted by search dogs and intelligence and surveillance capabilities, with support from Warrior armoured vehicles.
Lieutenant Colonel Bill Wright, the Commanding Officer of 2 RIFLES, said the ANA had set a ‘staggering’ pace throughout the winter:
This operation is the latest in a series of brigade-level operations planned and led by the ANA. During this winter they have conducted a brigade-level operation every three weeks - a quite staggering pace. They have kept us busy just trying to keep up with them.
This operation involved over 800 ANA and 200 AUP and is the most complex, largest and most dangerous that we have done by a huge margin.
That they have the confidence to conceive, plan and lead such a large-scale operation into an area that the insurgents perceived as their safe haven and had heavily defended is clear proof of their increasing confidence and capability. They have been hugely impressive.
Brigadier General Shah said:
The ANSF is ready to provide security for the Afghan people. Those who are fighting against our government need to come and join the peace process, as this can be the only solution.
Brigadier Patrick Sanders, the Commander of the British-led Task Force Helmand, said the operation had demonstrated the huge level of confidence the Afghan forces now have.
Throughout the winter, my commanders and I have worked closely with the Afghan forces and the real sense I have come away with, after months of planning and conducting operations together, is of a committed, intelligent force that has really pushed us to keep up with their aspirations.
In this operation the ANSF have demonstrated huge confidence to take on an operation of such scale and complexity, straight into the most challenging place in their area. They have demonstrated their capacity to operate anywhere, with the insurgents powerless to stop them, and that is a real testament to their skill and professionalism.