The FETs work hand-in-hand with the front line troops of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, and have become an important asset in the campaign against the insurgency.
Cultural mores in Helmand prevent male soldiers communicating directly with Afghan women, so a female presence on the part of the allied forces on the ground is crucial in building up relationships with Helmand’s women.
The FETs are drawn from across the Armed Forces and, after some language and cultural training, are deployed to support their male colleagues on front line operations.
Petty Officer Trish Wilkinson heads a small FET in the south of Nad ‘Ali district in Helmand, working alongside Royal Marines from 45 Commando and soldiers of B Company, 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles.
Since arriving in Afghanistan in April, the FET has been involved in a number of activities to engage women and children in the area. Recently, the team held a medical shura which was attended by over 40 women:
Despite the initial cultural differences, once you get to know the females, you see they are no different from women back home,” says Petty Officer Wilkinson.
Mums gossip about what is going on in the village and the mothers-in-law still have a lot of clout! The women are so hospitable and, no matter how poor or busy they are, they always invite us in for chai [tea] and food.
They want to know if we have children and, if so, where are they and how old are they. Most of the Afghan women I have met have between eight and 15 children of their own.
On one occasion the senior rating and her team went on a 13-hour patrol with 45 Commando’s Whiskey Company and the Afghan Police, during which they found a large haul of weapons and opium in a compound.
The presence of the FET made it easier for the Royal Marines to negotiate access to the building; while they spoke to the men, Petty Officer Wilkinson and her team were able to reassure the women and children and explain what was happening.
Petty Officer Wilkinson has previously served in Iraq, Sierra Leone, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, and is on her second tour of Afghanistan:
I thought the job looked really interesting and it has exceeded my expectations. The FET is a specialist role and I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to meet members of the Afghan population that many people never see,” she said.