British troops have handed over control of Patrol Base (PB) Ouellette to the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP).

The base, which is situated on Route 611 in the district of Nahr-e Saraj, has been home to UK Armed Forces since July 2011. Its transfer is part of an ongoing base reduction programme which is expected to leave just 4 forward bases in central Helmand in addition to Camp Bastion by the end of October 2013.

The handover comes as British troops no longer routinely provide support to Afghan forces in Nahr-e Saraj and was marked by a ceremony held by Afghan officials in a demonstration of the increasing capability and confidence of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (1 RRF) were stationed at PB Ouellette over the summer to assist the ANCOP in providing security on Route 611.

British soldiers load stores onto vehicles
British soldiers load stores onto vehicles as they prepare to leave Patrol Base Ouellette [Picture: Sergeant Dan Bardsley, Crown copyright]

Security for Route 611 is now entirely conducted by the ANCOP who will retain the base as part of their force structure in the area. Base reductions are discussed closely with the local Afghan forces to ensure the best solution as part of the ANSF’s enduring presence in the area.

Route 611 is a crucial link between northern Helmand and the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. Security along the route is key to the freedom of movement for locals, which in turn promotes governance and economic development.

Brigadier Rupert Jones, Commander Task Force Helmand, said:

The handover of Patrol Base Ouellette is another indicator of the progress of the Afghan security forces as a whole that we have seen across central Helmand this summer. This progress has enabled us to reduce our forward bases one by one.

As we come to the closing stages of what is typically the fighting season it’s a good moment to reflect on the reality that the Afghan National Security Forces have done exceptionally well. They have very firmly held the momentum in Helmand over the insurgent all the way through.

A piper playing the bagpipes at reveille
A piper playing the bagpipes at reveille on the morning the last British soldiers left Patrol Base Ouellette [Picture: Sergeant Dan Bardsley, Crown copyright]

Lieutenant Colonel Jon Swift, Commanding Officer of 1 RRF, said:

Over the last 6 months we have seen a lot of development in this part of Nahr-e Saraj district. Until recently this was one of the most contested areas in central Helmand. The improvement in security is, in large part, thanks to the efforts of the ANCOP to reduce the threat to locals who use the road.

It has been pleasing to see that each time the ANCOP have developed they have taken on more responsibility for security in the area and that has led us to this stage where we can hand the base over to the Afghans as they provide security now and into the future.

Soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (2 SCOTS) who make up the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group have assisted with training and advised their ANCOP counterparts at PB Ouellette throughout Operation Herrick 18.

Lieutenant Simon Wright, 2 SCOTS, said:

Our mission was to advise, train and mentor the ANCOP and we have certainly achieved that. They’re a very tough bunch, particularly the commanders. They are not afraid to take on the insurgents.

Second Lieutenant Zahir Khan, ANCOP platoon commander, said:

We really appreciate that ISAF were here to provide security when we needed it. Now that they are leaving we will do our best to continue to provide the same security as ISAF forces did. Before this camp was built people felt threatened by the insurgency in the area but now they are safe.

British armoured vehicles leave Patrol Base Ouellette
British armoured vehicles leave Patrol Base Ouellette [Picture: Sergeant Dan Bardsley, Crown copyright]

Major Steve Dallard, 2 SCOTS, Officer Commanding PB Ouellette, said:

Challenges still remain for the ANSF in the area but the ANCOP here have proven themselves to be well-trained, well-resourced and well-led, and more than capable of maintaining security on Route 611.

They have established lots of checkpoints along the route and have a much better awareness of the local area and population than we have had.

The handover of PB Ouellette comes as the ANSF take the lead for security in central Helmand, allowing British forces to draw down from Afghanistan.