Operation TOR SHEZADA, the current military effort to clear insurgents from central Helmand province, is going according to plan and extremely well, Lieutenant Colonel Frazer Lawrence, officer commanding the operation, said today.
Lt Col Lawrence is Commanding Officer of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (1 LANCS) who launched Op TOR SHEZADA (Black Prince) on Friday morning to clear insurgents from the area around Sayedabad to the south of Nad ‘Ali in Helmand province, and prevent its use as a base from which to launch attacks.
Soldiers from 1 LANCS are working jointly with the Afghan National Army and 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 SCOTS) to push out and clear villages surrounding the town of Sayedabad, the last remaining foothold for insurgents in the area.
Speaking to the BBC on Day 4 of the operation, Lt Col Lawrence said:
I’m out on the ground pretty much all day so I can tell you first-hand it’s going according to plan, it’s going extremely well. The activity by the insurgents isn’t as great as we expected and we’re on track.
The operation has been launched to build on the momentum generated by Operation MOSHTARAK which saw British troops clear the area around Nad ‘Ali to the north, and American troops clearing Marjah to the south, earlier this year.
Lt Col Lawrence explained why the area around Sayedabad has been his priority:
It’s a foothold that the insurgents have in the Green Zone here and it’s the one area where the District Governor here hasn’t been able to get down to in order to engage with his people.
There are 15 population centres within this area and 14 of them are under government control. Sayedabad is the last one that’s not and therefore it was something that needed to be dealt with.
We’ve been dealing with the elders down in Sayedabad for the last two months. The District Governor has had a number of shuras with them but he hasn’t been able to hold those down in Sayedabad, they’ve been up in the district centre here. And they are desperate to be free from the insurgents, so it’s important for all of those reasons.
The plan is really to clear and hold it, to provide a security bubble with our Afghan partners to allow reconstruction and development and the governance side to actually get down there and take hold.
The operation was spearheaded on Friday morning by soldiers from Somme Company, 1 LANCS, who were inserted by Chinook helicopter under the cover of darkness close to the town with forces from 21 Engineer Regiment, the Counter-IED Task Force, 1 SCOTS, and soldiers from the Afghan National Army.
1 LANCS took the local compounds - their initial objectives - unopposed and began moving supplies of water, rations and ammo, which had also been air dropped by Chinook helicopters, into the safety of the compounds as the dawn light began to take hold.
At the same time soldiers from the Brigade Reconnaissance Force carried out a similar insertion on the other side of the town.
Major Simon Ridgway, 1 LANCS, explained what the troops were doing at this stage:
This operation started with the use of helicopters to insert a number of troops onto the ground and they’ve seized objectives from which they will now operate.
From those areas they will seek to get a better understanding of the area, of the local people and the insurgent activity so we can build up the picture so that we can make progress and start to clear the insurgents out of the area.
The ISAF forces were met with little resistance in taking the compounds. Lt Col Lawrence explained why that might be:
I think part of the reason is because some of the insurgents will have blended in, they’ll have laid down their arms and they’re probably waiting to see what happens.
I think a number will have fled the area and I’m hoping that a number will actually lay down their arms permanently and reintegrate back into society.
Once established in the compounds, the ISAF soldiers started reinforcing their positions and creating hasty firing points along the rooftops out of sandbags.
Throughout the compounds light sangars were erected housing various support weapon systems. At the same time Royal Engineers were brought forward to clear trees and scrubland around the new compounds to provide better fields of vision.
Royal Engineer Section Commander, Lance Corporal Ryan Taylor, said:
We get sent out to cut down the trees and thin vegetation so that we can get arcs onto positions. We can increase the arcs by a lot further depth. We can see any Taliban or insurgents approaching trying to creep up on the position. It also deters them from trying to plant any nearby IEDs.
Speaking on Friday, Captain Brad Pino, 13 Platoon Commander, said:
We left at first light this morning to push round into an area we know that the insurgents have used before and previously there has been an IED factory.
“So we’ve pushed out to clear the kalay [village] just to see if there are any insurgents still in the area and to find out what the local nationals know and whether they’re happy that ISAF are here.
It’s been really quiet. The locals seem quite on side and happy to see us. They’ve told us that the insurgents have been in the area recently, potentially there are still some insurgents in the area, and there are some IEDs in the area.
Working on intelligence gained on the ground, the Royal Engineer Search Team moved in to search a suspected IED factory once the remaining buildings had been cleared by soldiers from 1 LANCS and their Afghan colleagues.
Lieutenant Amy Pennington from the Counter-IED Task Force said:
There was local intelligence that one of the compounds had been used as an IED factory. So my team was sent in to search that factory and we actually found component parts of IEDs.
Once we found the component parts of the IEDs we removed them and then the main charges were dem-ed [demolished] in situ by the ATO [Ammunition Technical Officer].
Since then the ongoing patrols around the town have allowed forces to interact and reassure local nationals about the operation and the increased security it will create.
Major Ridgway explained further:
What we’re trying to do with the local people is to develop the security in that area and that’s through a number of ways including the establishment of checkpoints, through patrolling, and just building up intelligence, but primarily using the local people to help provide some of their own security.
Referring to the possibility of the insurgents returning, Major Ridgway said:
There’s nothing to necessarily stop them coming back in; what we need to do is to remove their ability to operate.
And the key thing is their access to weapons, to ammunition, to improvised explosive devices, and by securing and dominating the area we reduce that freedom of movement for the insurgent and then together we, with the local people, by convincing them that their future will be better under their own local government, that collectively we can then establish the security.
Lt Col Lawrence explained what happens next:
Once we have secured the area and once the major lines of communication, the major routes, are clear of IEDs then that’s the clear phase complete.
And then we go into the hold phase. Now the hold phase is enduring, it is making sure that with our Afghan partners that the insurgent isn’t able to get back in there. So the clear phase, I suspect, will be complete in a couple of weeks; the hold phase will endure.