The Highlanders’ role has been to provide security for local people in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province alongside the Afghan police force.
Despite vastly differing languages and cultures, the Highlanders and the Afghans have built close relationships with each other and those they have been working to protect.
With temperatures regularly reaching above 40 degrees Celsius, it has not been uncommon for the soldiers to take a break from a patrol and accept the generosity of a local farmer offering them shade, chai (tea) and even watermelons.
These opportunities help to dispel many of the myths that exist about ISAF and Afghan forces and are a chance for the soldiers to gather information which may prove to be useful intelligence.
Highlander Hugh Mackay regularly carried out patrols in his Jackal vehicle:
Wherever we go, the locals always give us a wave when we drive past, and when we stop and chat they give us chai and melon. The people around here are very hospitable.
Back at base, the Highlanders and the Afghans eat together and spend their downtime learning about each other. Lance Corporal Donnie Macphee has been based alongside the Afghans at Checkpoint Khoorashan. He said:
Working and living in a partnered location brings a lot of issues, including cultural sensitivities. But we have constantly maintained a great working relationship with the AUP and they have been a pleasure to work with.
I completed a Pashto language course before I deployed and the Afghans have been happy to talk to me and help me improve my skills.
The extent of the cultural differences between the Highlanders and their Afghan partners was highlighted during the holy month of Ramadan. Throughout August, the AUP, who are devout Muslims, were unable to eat or drink between sunrise and sunset.
Sympathetic to their colleagues’ religion, 4 SCOTS hosted a number of ‘iftar’ meals (after sunset as a breaking of the fast) for the AUP, local elders and officials.
Corporal Andrew Reid said the locals have been really kind to them in return:
I was located in an isolated checkpoint with only seven other guys. The locals would come to the checkpoint and have a chat, they would bring homemade bread and melon. During our time we could see real progress, with a shop opening up nearby.
The good relationship between the British and Afghan forces has helped make doing the job of providing security much easier. When the Afghan Police and Army formally took over responsibility for security in the city of Lashkar Gah back in July 2011, the transition from ISAF to Afghan National Security Forces control was a smooth one.
Since the start of the transition process, 4 SCOTS have focused more on the areas surrounding the provincial capital.
In places such as Babaji, where B Company have been operating, there is greater security and stability than 12 months ago. In some areas, the Afghan Police have taken over sole control for the running of checkpoints - another example of the improvements in their abilities.
Highlander Bryan Feenan said working with the AUP has been a better experience than he was expecting:
We always have a good laugh with them. They are very keen to patrol and interact with the locals. They have come on in leaps and bounds in my time out here.
The Highlanders will shortly leave Helmand and hand over the baton of working with the Afghan Police to the soldiers of 20th Armoured Brigade.
As a lasting reminder of the relationship that’s been built over the last six months, the two commanding officers recently exchanged gifts.
Colonel Kamalludin from the AUP presented Lieutenant Colonel Alastair Aitken with a set of traditional Afghan clothing and, in return, the Highlanders have arranged for Colonel Kamalludin to receive a kilt made by the battalion’s master stitch.