Route Trident links the Helmand capital of Lashkar Gah to the economic hub of Gereshk. Its upgrade, which should help improve the lives of the local people, began when the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards had responsibility for the Nahr-e Saraj (South) area.
B Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, took over responsibility for the area at the end of April 2010 and, with it, the baton to provide protection for the Royal Engineers as the road is driven south, bringing freedom of movement and trade to the local population of the village of Walizi.
It was while providing protection for the building of the road that a soldier attached to 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles was sadly killed yesterday.
4 Armoured Engineer Squadron is upgrading the old Babaji road which has seen the Sappers clear improvised explosive devices, build culverts to allow irrigation to continue, and even alter the planned route to meet requests from the local communities through which the road passes.
The dilapidated state of the old road means the journey for traffic currently takes hours, so the aim is to have a firm and safe tarmac surface which will drastically reduce journey times.
The road is being solidly constructed using carpet-like membranes, tough plastic neo cells and high quality aggregates and stone, which should hold together well despite heavy vehicles and harsh weather conditions.
Local people themselves are being employed to carry out some of the work which brings welcome cash into the area’s economy.
Local taxi drivers have supported the development as they see their journeys becoming easier, and one resident summed up local feelings when he told a patrol how he approved of the road - ‘it’s good for us,’ he said. He is presently unemployed but sees an opportunity to build a shop and sell goods to people passing through.
Second Lieutenant Gareth Parkinson, whose Sappers have the task of building Route Trident, described road-building as ‘a dream come true for a young engineer officer’, and explained that the route was originally planned to bypass Walizi village.
During consultation the villagers indicated that they would prefer it to go straight through the village itself so there would be no damage to the fields where they grow their crops, and there might be a boost in the commercial opportunities that would become available to them as they looked forward to increased traffic.
Major Charlie Crowe, Officer Commanding B Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, said that as the road comes through his area his Gurkhas provide security for the construction teams:
The road’s very important; it’s the main effort for the Battle Group and the brigade.
It’s pretty simple but it brings with it enormous benefits to each of the villages it passes through. The villagers will then have an artery through which they can sell their produce, come and go, or use the facilities and hospitals in Gereshk or Lashkar Gah.
It’s something visible - a real sign of progress which the villagers can see outside their door.
Sapper Ben Brummitt, who is working on the road, said:
It’s a critical route to further operations in South Helmand. We’ve pushed a long way and have about seven kilometres to go until we link up with the other Battle Group, which is pushing up from Lashkar Gah.
While work goes on, normal farming activities must continue, and as we push through villages it’s imperative that farmers keep their fields supplied with water. So we’re building many culverts to allow the supply to crops to continue.
The locals have reacted quite well to us, in particular the kids - they trust us and we’re happy if they’re happy.
The Commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Richard Felton, visited the Gurkhas and inspected progress. He said:
Following the successes of Operation MOSHTARAK, Route Trident is a perfect example of how we’re extending governance by improving freedom of movement.
Phase 1 has shown us just how successful that is to the locals of Babaji and Malgir and we hope to carry that on with Route Trident 2.
I hope before the end of my tour to be able to drive from Lashkar Gah to Gereshk, which was Provincial Governor Mangal’s third highest priority for any activity in Helmand province.
1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles last deployed to Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 7 in 2008 and since then has conducted extensive training in the UK and a multinational exercise in Brunei in preparation for this latest operational tour.