Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment and the ANA delivered the items in preparation for winter to the local Hazara people, who live in Sayedabad, during a simple reassurance patrol.
The patrol was led by Sergeant Paul Enstone, who has been the local checkpoint commander for the past seven weeks. Since his arrival he has seen a total transformation in the area, achieved through intense work.
Initially when Sergeant Enstone and his ‘A Company’ arrived, local people in Sayedabad would not speak to British or Afghan troops as they feared insurgent reprisals. But their tireless efforts to separate the insurgents from the ordinary local people, eliminating the former and winning the trust of the latter, have paid off. Now locals are willing to approach the checkpoint without fear of reprisals.
Sergeant Enstone said:
The tour so far has been very hard and we have been fighting the Taliban on a daily basis. But now we have secured the village and this was a great example of how much we have achieved. The kids were all delighted to receive their winter coats - it’s amazing how such a small gesture can make such a big difference.
This is a success of Afghan and British partnership. The atmospherics in the village are now the best we have witnessed so far in our tour. It’s great to see children playing openly in the streets and locals freely coming up to speak with patrolling soldiers - this alone would have been unheard of when we arrived.
Plans are now gathering pace to build on the momentum gathered during these two months. We are not claiming to be finished but we are definitely well on the way to winning and making Sayedabad a better place - permanently - for those who live there.
Ranger Neil McClory, who was also involved with the patrol, added:
Working with the Afghan National Army has given us a real opportunity to interact better with the people. They can see that this is a case of us and the Afghans working together to make their area a better place for all. The kids loved it and it really did feel like genuine progress.
ANA soldiers also enjoyed the day and were delighted with the progress achieved. Sergeant Adul Qadwir said:
On our patrols through the kalay [village], we noticed that the children did not have many warm clothes and wanted to do something to help. The fighting has been hard but days like this make it worthwhile. We couldn’t have given these gifts a month ago when the Taliban controlled this area. Now we are working hard to make sure they can’t come back.
Warrior Abdullah Khan added:
Sayedabad has changed and it feels good that we have been part of that. We get on well with the local people and wanted to give them some warm clothes for the winter. The Taliban used to intimidate the people in this kalay and force them to give up food and money. The people used to be scared and stay in their compounds when we patrolled through, but now they are happy to come out and talk.
The Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, Lieutenant Colonel Colin Weir, was delighted with the way his men and the Afghan soldiers conducted themselves on this operation, and with the progress that made this achievable. He said:
Only days ago there would have been no chance that the locals would feel safe enough to speak to us in public, and certainly not to accept gifts from us. The terror of the Taliban meant that they wished to distance themselves from the Government because of fear of retribution.
The gifts we give - books, pens, coats, wellington boots - are not life-changing by any means. The life-changing gifts are the schools and clinics that only come with time and security and that are delivered by the Afghan Government. But our role is to nudge the door open, to have a conversation with the people, and to persuade them that they can throw their lot in with us. If security is not good enough, they keep the door locked, but if it is good enough they will unlock it.
Winning comes in small steps, small victories. Here at the tactical level, we have small victories every day. The best victories are probably not those against the Taliban - we know we are better fighters than him, we beat him every day. The sorts of victories we have just seen in Sayedabad are much more meaningful. Victory is a pair of new, yellow wellies on small, dry feet.