British, Danish and Afghan forces have built a new road and new patrol base to cut off known insurgent routes and bring increased protection for civilians and troops alike around Gereshk.
The provision of security around Gereshk in northern Helmand province is led by a Danish Battle Group with British and Afghan elements attached to it.
The road and patrol base-building taking place in the area north of the district centre falls under Operation LMARIZ TUFAAN (Sun Storm).
Its aim is to protect the population of Gereshk district centre, the capital in Nahr-e Saraj district, against the insurgents primarily coming from the northeast down the Upper Gereshk Valley that stretches on until Sangin.
The main effort of the building work is the construction of a completely new road between two existing patrol bases (PBs). This will enable the security forces to exercise greater control within the area and give the local population the possibility of more protected movement between the important bazaars in Gereshk district centre and surrounding villages.
The operation, undertaken by Danish troops, British engineers and counter improvised explosive device (IED) experts, and an Afghan National Army (ANA) kandak (battalion) who have all worked together for weeks, includes clearing the area of IEDs, building two bridges, 18km of new road, and a new PB midway along that road.
The multi-million dollar project has been spearheaded by the District Governor of Gereshk, Jan Gul, and funded by the Danish government.
It is hoped that the new security improvements will help many Afghan families that are living with the threat of intimidation and extortion by the Taliban on a daily basis, such as landowner Haji Nabullah, who said:
The Taliban digs in IEDs all around here and I can’t walk here.
Warrant Officer Class 2 Mark Lovatt, from the Royal Logistic Corps, is involved in the operation. He said:
At the moment we are clearing all the IEDs away. We will make it safer, and then have overwatch, to stop them putting them back again.
We are putting in the road for them [the villagers] as much as us, but we can’t just take the land for the road. They will be compensated just as they would be if we decided to do this in Denmark or the UK.
Nabullah and his fellow villagers will get compensation for any damage caused, but efforts to get them to visit one of the PBs to discuss what might be due to them have been resisted. Nabullah said:
We are afraid of the Taliban and we can’t go there. We know of two elders who were killed for going there so we can’t come. I have a car. Maybe they will come and put an IED next to my car.
Captain Mohammed Nasir, ANA Tolay Commander, said:
Right now we go out and talk to them, but there is no government here. The people don’t trust that lack of a government. We need to go and live next to the village and show them we are the government here and win their trust.
The new PB being means that from now on Haji Nabullah and his family and friends will have a platoon of ANA soldiers living just next door to them.
They will be a constant presence in the area, with the back up of International Security Assistance Forces (ISAF) less than a kilometre away in each direction.
Captain Nasir added:
If we go out on patrol for 24 hours to a village then come back we cannot make a difference because the Taliban can return.
But if we live there we will be able to guarantee security. More people will start coming back when they know their army is there, protecting them. We aren’t worried about our security. We are the army.
The lack of a clandestine through-route to Gereshk town is expected to force the insurgents to use the main roads or the river, both of which are well-guarded by ISAF or Afghan troops and police, or to travel in the desert area either side of the Green Zone, where they can be spotted more easily.