The Shropshire-based battalion, responsible for security in Helmand’s Nad ‘Ali district, mounted an insertion into Zaborabad, using 15 helicopters, with cover provided by fast jets. It was the biggest such operation for 1 R IRISH since the crossing of the Rhine in 1945 during the Second World War.
More than 500 Royal Irish soldiers took part in the assault, codenamed Operation TOR ZHEMAY VI (Black Winter in English), bolstered by Afghan National Army soldiers as well as colleagues from 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment and the US Marine Corps.
Facing no opposition from the bewildered enemy, the combined forces were able to search suspicious compounds unhindered. They found 14 significant stashes of enemy weaponry, ammunition and bomb-making material, and arrested three key insurgent figures.
Previously, Zaborabad was one of the most dangerous insurgent strongholds in Nad ‘Ali. Small arms, rocket, grenade and improvised explosive device attacks were a certainty for any British or Afghan forces which patrolled into the town. Insurgents also used Zaborabad as a springboard to launch attacks into neighbouring Marjah district.
Prior to the operation the plans were shrouded in secrecy, with detailed planning and rehearsals taking place on a large scale model at a joint British and Afghan National Army camp in Nad ‘Ali district centre. This was followed by further rehearsals with the helicopter force at the main British base of Camp Bastion.
Before dawn on the morning of the assault, foot patrols of soldiers from the Royal Irish, supported by Royal Tank Regiment troops in armoured vehicles, moved into concealed positions to seal off Zaborabad and prevent any insurgents escaping. To distract the insurgents, a foot patrol then moved into Zaborabad from the west, drawing the enemy’s attention away from the helicopter landing sites to the south.
The helicopter assault launched 300 soldiers in one wave, landing simultaneously. The enemy had no response and could only conceal their weapons and try to run or drive from the area. The majority of these runners were stopped at the cordon.
Over the following two days, carrying huge loads of water, rations, batteries and ammunition, the Royal Irish troops and their Afghan partners conducted a series of searches across the area. Amongst the 14 separate significant finds were the following:
• 4 AK47 rifles
• 2 shotguns
• 4 long-barrelled, bolt-action sniper rifles
• 22 AK47 magazines
• 5 chest rigs
• 3 Russian grenades
• 1 directional fragmentation charge
• 2 pressure plate IEDs
• prepared metal fragments for IEDs
• various AK ammunition
Much of the material was blown up on the spot by Royal Engineers and three suspected insurgent leaders linked to the finds were arrested. In addition, a prepared enemy-fighting position was uncovered and destroyed.
More importantly, the enemy were prevented from continuing their campaign of murder, intimidation and beatings of local people. As an indicator of the psychological effect of the operation on locals, a community meeting was held at which local elders agreed they now had the confidence to actively and openly support the Afghan Government and Afghan and ISAF forces.
Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir, Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, said:
In addition to the physical effect that we have had on the enemy, the psychological effect of this air assault was remarkable. The insurgents were horrified but the people were delighted to see us, and many of the finds and arrests were through local people indicating where the weaponry and insurgents were hidden.
In truth, the insurgent now has nowhere to hide. We and our Afghan partners can now go anywhere, any time.
Major James Coleby, a British advisor to the Afghan National Army’s 4th Heavy Weapons Tolay (Company), said:
This operation has been a resounding success for the Afghan National Army. They have proved that their relationship with the locals is sound and that they have reassured the local population the Afghan Government is here to protect them.
They have worked hard without complaint or hesitation, under extreme weather conditions, within one of the most dangerous quarters in Helmand to achieve success in their part of the operation. I am proud of their successes to date and hope that, as my tour of duty draws to a close, that they continue to go forward.
Lieutenant Colonel John Harrill, Commander 28 US Marine Corps, said:
Op TOR ZHEMAY VI represented the strength of the bond between the Afghan National Security Forces, the Royal Irish and the US Marines. This operation proved that no enemy safe haven can survive between such strong partners.