For the last four-and-a-half months, Royal Marines from Kilo Company, 42 Commando, have been living and working alongside soldiers from the ANA at a small patrol base (PB) in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.
In that time, the Marines and the Afghan soldiers that they have been mentoring have formed a strong bond. They carry out joint patrols on an almost daily basis into the villages surrounding their base and, when they return to PB5, they share their downtime together too.
Recently, they played each other in a football match in front of local people who came to watch.
The strength of feeling between the Marines and the Warriors was highlighted last week when the Afghan soldiers invited the Marines to take part in their celebrations to mark the festival of Eid.
Throughout the month of August, the ANA soldiers, who are devout Muslims, observed the holy month of Ramadan, which meant they could not eat or drink during the hours of daylight in accordance with their religion.
In a specially erected tent not far from PB5, the Brits and Afghans shared a feast of food and gave gifts to the Afghan children who also came along.
The celebrations enabled the Royal Marines and the Afghan soldiers to reaffirm and develop their good relationship with local Afghan elders; a relationship that has been critical to successful operations to drive insurgents from the area.
After the feast, the Afghan soldiers and Marines returned to their base and took part in a shooting competition with soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES), who are also based at PB5, and have been training and mentoring the Afghan soldiers, helping them to develop their military skills.
The competition was a chance for the Afghans to show off what they had learnt, but sadly it wasn’t enough to beat the 1 RIFLES team.
The day ended with a ‘Warriors’ Dinner’ of rice and chicken, which was prepared by the Afghan soldiers and then served to their ISAF colleagues.
Captain Chris Armstrong, from Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, said working with the Afghans has been a great experience and it’s rewarding to see how they’ve developed:
They definitely add value,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to compare them to UK military standards but to their credit they react quickly and have the advantage of speaking the language and being able to communicate with the locals better than we can. They are doing very well.
Eight months ago, there was no ISAF presence in the area around PB5 and now locals regularly see both Royal Marines and Afghan soldiers on the streets helping to keep the insurgents at bay. The improved security situation has helped to boost people’s confidence.
Second-in-Command of Kilo Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines, Captain Chris Hurt, who runs the day-to-day management of operations in PB5, said:
This is a stable but immature area; a year ago there was no ISAF presence here and the insurgents had control. Our focus is providing security in the villages of the protected community by deterring the enemy and building the capacity of the Afghan forces.
As the ANA get more confident and more capable, we will start to hand over the checkpoints to the ANA. Progress is being made and K Company is helping to drive it and the ANA forward.