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Royal Engineers help clear Kandahar of insurgents

Since September, 5 Armoured Engineer Squadron, part of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), has been providing close engineering support to the…

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Since September, 5 Armoured Engineer Squadron, part of 23 Engineer Regiment (Air Assault), has been providing close engineering support to the 2nd Battalion of the US Army’s 502nd Infantry Regiment and their partnered Afghan National Army Kandak (battalion) in Kandahar’s Zharay district.

Zharay district contains the Horn of Panjwaii, an insurgent stronghold from where attacks on Kandahar City have been enabled and supported, and Sangsar, the Taliban’s spiritual birthplace and former home of Mullah Omar.

Under this effort, known as Operation HAMKARI, or, as the soldiers call it, ‘The Battle of Kandahar’, the intent has been to defeat insurgent elements and increase Afghan Government influence across the area as well as enable development west of Kandahar City.

**See more pictures of the Royal Engineers in action during Operation HAMKARI in the Gallery at Related News.
The operation is considered to be of critical importance, to the extent that Commander ISAF, General David Petraeus, has described it as ‘the main effort of the world’, and he specifically discussed the UK capability and contribution when he met the Prime Minister last month.

One of the reasons 5 Armoured Engineer Squadron was brought on board by the US Army was to gain access to two Trojan armoured tanks which, with mine ploughs and the towed Python system, an explosives-laden hose launched via a rocket, can clear safe routes through high-threat IED areas.

5 Armoured Engineer Squadron was joined by other UK personnel from the Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) and the Royal Army Medical Corps.

Other equipment capabilities used in support of the Trojan have included Husky support vehicles, REME’s Challenger armoured recovery and repair vehicles and the RLC’s enhanced platform logistic systems and fuel tankers.

The British unit has also had various US counter-IED, explosive ordnance disposal and other route construction teams under its command, integrating the assets to provide freedom of movement for the US and Afghan troops bringing about the operation’s main objectives.

The number of US personnel and the equipment that 5 Armoured Engineer Squadron has commanded is a clear reflection of the high regard in which British troops and commanders are held by the US Army.

In addition, the Brits have supported the operation by:

  • providing hasty resupply to US companies caught up in prolonged contacts with insurgents;
  • opening a route to enable the Afghan National Army to remove insurgent trophy vehicles in a powerful show of intent;
  • assisting in the detention of two suspected insurgents and the recovery of the body of an insurgent;
  • establishing communications lines to infantry units dropped into areas by helicopter; and
  • assisting with the evacuation of a US casualty.

Major David Bickers, Officer Commanding 5 Armoured Engineer Squadron, said:

Even though an airborne battalion, the Americans we have worked alongside have grown to appreciate the benefits of armour, and armoured engineers in particular. The Trojan vehicles are the talk of the battalion; the US appreciate their ability to rapidly create new and safe routes and have designed their concepts of operations around the effects we can offer.

To a man, the US are hugely committed in what they are doing in Zharay and it has been an honour to fight alongside them. We have considered it a privilege to be involved in Operation HAMKARI. It is an ambitious and potentially decisive operation which strikes at the heart of Taliban support.

We have no doubt the US and their Afghan National Army partners will succeed in their operations here. Wherever we have been, Afghans have been relieved to have the Taliban pushed out from their villages. I think every man in 5 Squadron will look back on the last two months as one of the most formative experiences of their military careers.

The phase of British support to Operation HAMKARI concludes today.

Published 11 November 2010