News story

Cavalry soldiers protect engineers building new Helmand road

Cavalry soldiers from The Royal Dragoon Guards have been protecting British engineers and Afghan contractors as, over recent weeks, they have come under daily attacks while building a new road in Helmand.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

Once completed, Route Trident in southern Nahr-e Saraj will link the Helmand provincial capital Lashkar Gah with the economic hub of Gereshk, providing a safe and durable transit route for the civilian population and ISAF forces across the province.

Soldiers from 1 Troop, 1st Armoured Engineer Squadron, from Ripon, North Yorkshire, and Afghan contractors are building the road and over the last few months insurgents have tried to prevent progress.

The engineers and their Afghan colleagues have come under daily attacks as well as having to cope with improvised explosive device (IED) strikes around the build.

With the help of The Royal Dragoon Guards though the attacks are being rebutted and steady progress on the road build continues to be made.

The Cavalry soldiers from The Royal Dragoon Guards are working as the Viking Group in Helmand which has been providing overwatch and protection for the road build.

Watch video footage of soldiers from The Royal Dragoon Guards’ Viking Group and Royal Engineers working on Route Trident in Helmand province.

Second Lieutenant Edward Barker, Officer Commanding the Viking Group, commented:

We’re working in close conjunction with the engineers, who are themselves supervising local civilian contractors - the idea being that it is their road and we want them to build it as much as possible.

We’re there to provide the protection for that, whether that involves very close protection, by simply providing an armoured sandbag, or moving into positions to prevent the engineers from being fired upon by insurgents.

The Royal Dragoon Guards Viking Group consists of the Catterick-based soldiers from 1st Troop, D ‘The Green Horse’ Squadron, operating out of Viking armoured vehicles. The agility and manoeuvrability of the tracked vehicle, combined with its mounted fire power from a 0.50-calibre heavy machine gun or the general purpose machine gun, makes Viking the perfect vehicle to provide force protection for the engineers working on the road construction.

Corporal Adam Smith, Viking Group, Royal Dragoon Guards, said:

We move into positions that provide a protective block and also clear the route in front of the engineers from any IEDs.

Most of the time, because we’re in armoured vehicles, we’ll sit there and take the shots because it is not doing anything to us, but as [the incoming rounds] get closer and closer to the engineer teams on the ground, we’ve got busier.

We’ve returned fire with some heavy weapons recently, escalating our response as required, but with one eye clearly on the local nationals. This has sent the message that we’re not here to mess about.

The road is being constructed in layers by the engineers, with the uppermost surface being topped with aggregate and stones.

The Viking vehicles provide a movable ‘ring of steel’ around the engineers, allowing them to carry out construction and move forward as progress is made.

Corporal Darran Mounsey, who serves with 21 Engineer Regiment, said:

The basis of the build itself is a thing called Neoweb, which goes on the ground and is then filled to form a rigid structure for the road so when the winter does come in it doesn’t wash away. A neo-grid then goes on top, so it forms a hardened road when it is topped.

The lads are overseeing the local contactors, but they also have work to do themselves, physical work - the setting out of the road, the stitching and placing of the neo-grid itself and quite a lot of shovelling.

Despite insurgent activity, the route build continues to gain ground. Second Lieutenant Barker explained:

I think the project is actually going very well. The intelligence we have suggests that stopping the Route Trident build is the insurgents’ main effort in this area and that’s not something they have been able to do.

We have the armoured capacity to protect [the engineers] at close quarters, but also the manoeuvrability to push out into depth and really take the fight to the enemy.

Published 15 September 2010