Brigadier Doug Chalmers, having recently completed his six-month tour as Commander Task Force Helmand, gave a briefing to media in the MOD's Main Building today.
Brigadier Chalmers began by focusing on the objectives that 12th Mechanized Brigade had set themselves before commencing their six months on Operation HERRICK 16:
It may seem odd, but it was only when I reflected on the objectives that we set, having had long discussions with our predecessors, as we were coming home, that I realised to what extent the underlying theme had been about enabling rather than doing,” he said.
Describing the tour as a transitional summer, the Brigadier said that it was encouraging how much progress had been made in helping the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) to take over responsibility for security:
It felt that this tour, perhaps more than any other, brought together all the elements that had been achieved in previous HERRICKs and made sense of all the work that has been done over the years.
As Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, Deputy Commander ISAF and UK National Component Commander, pointed out in his briefing to media last week, Brigadier Chalmers talked about the success and the importance of driving the insurgents away from areas of occupation to the margins of the area of operations:
The insurgents did launch an offensive which they called Al-Faruq, the intention of which was to get back a foothold in the population and economic centres in Nad ‘Ali.
Their initial D-Day was 3 and 4 May but in this they singularly failed, as they did in subsequent assaults up to and after Ramadan.
More important than the strategic failure was the effect that it had in the minds of local citizens who saw the threat squashed, principally by their own forces.
The Brigadier said that the transition process was working effectively and that the objectives to set the right conditions for Nahr-e Saraj to begin the process had been successful and the district would enter the formal stage of transition within the next month or so:
For many this district focuses in the minds of Afghans on the city of Gereshk, which is growing, with over 500 shops there and a lot of investment, especially on the western side of the city,” said the Brigadier.
He conceded that there was still a lot of violence there but that this was now much more emanating from the northern end of the valley rather than all around the city as it had been last summer.
Confidence in the district was growing and as a result 60 per cent of ISAF bases were closed during the tour:
This is important psychologically; if we still had ISAF bases it would suggest that things weren’t as far forward as they in fact were.
A lot of progress had been made working with and training the Afghan Local Police who now come within the Afghan Uniform Police structure, so issues like pay, fuel provision and scheduled periods of leave were now being sorted out.
In addition to that, there had been a lot of improvement in the development of the institutions of the ANSF, with leave cycles more established, which had brought the absentee rate down. Pay was more reliable, going directly to the individuals who had earned it, as was provision of spares and equipment.
The Brigadier said that in specialist terms the ANSF capability had expanded:
In terms of countering the IED threat, in two months during our tour the Afghan National Army [ANA] counter-IED teams destroyed more devices than UK teams on a number of large operations. I never sent a UK counter-IED team in to work with the ANA who dealt with all the devices themselves.
The Brigadier said:
These are the hardest of all casualties to bear. We suffered three incidents on our tour which left seven of our soldiers killed.
But the reaction of the Afghans at the scene at the low tactical level was deeply rewarding for us, reacting instantly in support of our guys.
At my level, with the people I inteact with, it was the genuine sense of shock and simple horror that this had happened which I found deeply reassuring.
Brigadier Chalmers said that the Afghans were working very hard to grip their own institutions to deal with the insider threat, and on a number of occasions they had pre-empted the situation by removing individuals that they thought were behaving in an odd way:
Putting this into context, every day several thousand of my soldiers were engaging with the Afghans and when I visited units where an incident had occurred I was impressed by how robust they [the British soldiers] were in their reaction to this, and their sense of commitment and belief in what they were doing remained strong. It is just one of the risks that they face every day.
The Brigadier closed by saying it was this calibre of belief and commitment, building on the achievements of previous HERRICKs, that had formed the bedrock of the progress that could be seen in the streets and markets of Helmand today.