A significant offensive operation, which takes the independence and self-sufficiency of British-trained Afghan forces to a new level, has begun in central Helmand.
As the new year was seen in around the world, Afghan National Army (ANA) troops were opening a new chapter which sets the scene for their future autonomy and long-term role in the defence of their nation against the insurgency.
Operation OMID PANJ (‘Hope Five’ in English) follows on from the successful Operation OMID CHAR which, at the time, was the largest operation in terms of size, number of soldiers and duration to have been planned, led and conducted by the ANA.
However, OMID PANJ takes things a step further, with the Afghans relying on even less support from British troops, who are present not to lead the fight but to observe and advise from the background. One of the key areas where significant development of Afghan capability is being demonstrated is their growing ability to find and render safe improvised explosive devices, the indiscriminate weapon of choice for the insurgency.
Being conducted in the Green Zone, north of the Helmand River, the operation is pushing the Afghan Government’s influence and security bubble further out. By the time of its conclusion, it will see a new patrol base established east of Gereshk between the Helmand River and the Bandi Barq road. This rural area, filled with irrigation ditches, canals and small farm plots, interspersed with residential compounds, has suffered from significant insurgent intimidation due to its proximity to smuggling routes into Gereshk City.
Operation OMID PANJ was devised by the 3rd Brigade of 215 Maiwand Corps of the Afghan National Army (known as 3/215 Brigade) in response to a request from the Gereshk District Governor, Abdual Ahad, for them to tackle the problem zone.
The operation, which will continue into January, started on 27 December 2010 and resulted in immediate positive effects, with insurgents fleeing from the area in the face of the threat from Afghan forces, and others detained or killed.
Already a sufficient level of peace and security has been achieved to enable shuras (traditional Afghan public meetings) to be held with local elders in the main settlement of Noorzai. These have established a desire for local construction and development projects which the Afghan Government is now looking to support.
3/215 Brigade has also worked closely with the District Governor and Chief of Police in Nahr-e Saraj, ensuring all Afghan authorities are co-ordinated in their response to the operation.
Lieutenant Colonel David Eastman, spokesman for British forces in Afghanistan, said:
Operation OMID PANJ is seeing Afghan soldiers use skills learnt from and developed by their British counterparts. British troops are there at the forefront of this operation but they are there simply to observe and advise - plus, quite frankly, to watch with pride as the Afghans they have trained demonstrate their formidable capability.
From the very beginning of the planning stage, the Afghan National Army has made Operation OMID PANJ its own and it’s thanks to the outstanding training they have received from British forces that they can do that. These Afghan troops are the men who will be responsible for safeguarding Afghanistan’s security in the long term so there is no greater priority than their development.
Lieutenant Colonel Mark Davis, Commanding Officer of the Counter-IED Task Force, said:
Operation OMID PANJ is a perfect example of how far the Afghan National Army’s counter-IED capability has progressed. I was present as the ANA team led a search of the Bandi Barq road while we followed behind, fully confident of their ability to find improvised explosive devices.
We have proven that the ANA are increasingly capable of taking over from us and we are well on the way to transferring the lead for security to the Afghans.
General Sherin Shah, Commander of 3/215 Brigade, said:
The object of this operation is to bring security and maintain law and order in the district. The safety of local civilians is our highest priority.
Operation OMID PANJ is important for all Afghan people. The new patrol base will free the local people from the intimidation of the insurgents and the operation demonstrates the reputation of the Afghan National Army to the Helmand people as legitimate, professional, disciplined forces which have the power to beat the insurgency and bring peace.