British soldiers in Helmand have completed a three-day operation to disrupt insurgent activity in a Taliban stronghold in the Upper Gereshk Valley.
The aim on the first day of Operation TUFAN ALUTAKA was to destroy a bridge used by insurgents to bring weapons into the Zumbelay area, north east of Gereshk.
Major Alex McKay, Officer Commanding C Company, 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (3 MERCIAN), said:
The bridge in question, which is about 400m south of another bridge, was being used by insurgents to intimidate locals working in the area, and also to illegally tax them. We had also observed, over a series of weeks, that they were using it to move IEDs [improvised explosive devices] in one direction, and money out.
At the site of the bridge, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards (SCOTS DG) of the Warthog Group provided a cordon of security for the soldiers on the ground; the heavily armoured, tracked vehicles giving any insurgents in the area reason to think twice before launching a counter-attack.
Major Jonnie Williamson, Officer Commanding D Squadron, SCOTS DG, said:
The Warthogs provide a unique capability in theatre in so far as they are heavily armoured, heavily manoeuvrable, capable vehicles which can also carry troops in the back.
We provided an early screen, we bussed the soldiers from 3 MERCIAN down, and we sat watching any of the compounds around the area to make sure no-one popped up and did anything unpleasant.
Local people spoke to the soldiers during the operation, explaining how they had seen a lot of heavy fighting in the last few years and were worried about the military presence. They also urged that they would want compensation payments if their crops were damaged, and the Warthog Commander took the opportunity to reassure them.
With locals safely cleared and the area cordoned off, Royal Engineers used nearly 40kg of explosive to destroy the bridge:
We went across and we put eight bar mines in total across the bridge,” said Corporal Matthew Mackay of 32 Engineer Regiment. “Going out with the signs we had with all the Warthogs, all the infantry call signs we had on the ground, and the screen they put around us gives you that warm, fuzzy feeling - you know you’re going to be safe for the majority of the day.
The only working bridge in the area now is overlooked by an ISAF checkpoint. Insurgents won’t be able to use it to transport weapons, or to evacuate their injured, and they will find it harder to get across to intimidate the locals on the other side of the canal.
Major Alex McKay said:
This is one of a series of operations with regards to the insurgent, and our ability to disrupt him and deter him from taking any action against local nationals in this area, and I find it easy to say that he won’t be able to work in the Pasab area for some time without a very high threat of us catching him.
Another part of the three-day operation was the establishment of a vehicle checkpoint to further press the insurgents while reassuring locals with a visible security presence on the ground:
If we find anything, that’s a bonus,” said Lance Corporal David Gates of the SCOTS DG, “but the main thing is just to let the locals know that we are trying to deter anybody from bringing IEDs into this area or long-barrelled weapons, just so that they know that the area is pretty much safe for them to move around in day-to-day life.
The extra security provided during the operation enabled Afghan National Security Forces to hold a shura with local villagers at the nearby Forward Operating Base Khar Nikah.
Major McKay knows and respects his enemy. He knows there is a tough fight ahead, but says that, by keeping one step ahead, success is achievable:
It is complex, we have to keep changing our ideas, we can’t set patterns,” said Major McKay. “The insurgent in this area is competent. As long as we stay on the front foot, as long as we can’t be predictable, as long as we keep an aggressive fighting spirit and the initiative away from the insurgent, then I think that [success] is entirely possible.
This story has been adapted from special video reports by BFBS reporters Charlotte Cross and Tristan Nichols for British Forces News.