A Coy 1 R IRISH on Op HERRICK 13, How Bad? Saidabad!
The 1 R IRISH Battle Group assumed command of Combined Force Nad-e’ Ali (South) in early October 2010. Most soldiers in A Coy 1 R IRISH flew into their various check points under a hail of fire and this set the tone for a demanding tour, especially over the first three months.
From the very start the A Coy AO (Area of Operations) was split in two zones, the level of kinetic activity making any move from east to west impossible, even under the cover of darkness. The Company found itself in a state of siege, constantly bombarded not only with small arms fire but also by RPGs and UGLs against which there was little defence. Any movement of more than 50 metres outside the relative safety of the Patrol Base would result in a withering burst of accurate automatic fire and the unyielding enforcement of a Forward Line of Enemy Troops that the enemy seemed determined to maintain. No one who was present the day will ever forget our first clearance operation required to open route DEVON and facilitate an ANA resupply. The Company endured more than 12 hours of near continuous contact, with one Multiple being pinned down for more than three hours on the cross-roads immediately adjacent to Company HQ in PB KALANG.
It became clear that before the Company could begin to execute a comprehensive Counter Insurgency programme we had to demonstrate both to the insurgents and a subsistence-minded population that we were the most powerful force in South West Nad-e’ Ali and that our toehold in the community would only strengthen and expand in the months to come.
For this early period we had little choice but to live by our own wits – the Battle Group Main Effort was elsewhere at the time, the first priority being the preservation of the District Centre against insurgent infiltration. The heavy fighting unfortunately resulted in several casualties, most sadly Ranger McCormick who was killed while confirming an IED. Encouragingly, however, the effect our aggressive patrolling was having on the Taliban was really beginning to have an impact on the insurgency.
This initial phase of fierce and sustained fighting set the scene for a systematic transformation of the AO. We soon became the Battle Group Main Effort. Over the course of a succession of Battle Group operations, at times requiring the deployment of up to 500 troops, all 5 checkpoints were in turn rebuilt and fortified by an inspired platoon of Royal Engineers. A further checkpoint was built in the very centre of the A Company area. Not only was this a deeply symbolic statement of intent but it also had an immediate tactical and strategic effect. The culmination of this phase was the first visit by the District Governor to Saidabad; the inaugural Shura was held on the very street where a few months previously a platoon had fought for their lives. In attendance at this Shura was a certain Pashtun elder whose compound had not so long ago been the most persistent firing point onto PB KALANG.
On our arrival in Saidabad we soon identified a lack of sufficient Afghan Counter-Insurgents. It was this that encouraged us to develop and train an Afghan Local Police Force (ALP) which would, fill this security vacuum in the short term,. For a long time, as the AO remained fiercely contested, progress was frustratingly slow. The breakthrough came when a vastly improved security situation was coupled with a new initiative to train ALP volunteers within their own villages, utilising small training teams who attached themselves to the Ground Holding Companies. Crucial also was the robust leadership of a few brave local elders who chose to put their heads above the parapet and refused to be intimidated by insurgent threats.
Ultimately, the ALP served to tie an area firmly to the District Centre. With almost no ALP volunteers having Tashkiel (official citizenship papers) it was a necessary pleasure to re-enfranchise more than 200 fighting aged males who would previously have been natural recruits to the insurgency. The bond which developed between the population and the soldiers of the Company ultimately proved vital. We won their trust by always being the last on the field of battle and by following through on our promises, often at severe cost. In turn, we respected their bravery in refusing to be cowed by the vitriol of a now desperate and increasingly vicious insurgent grouping.
No one in A Company will forget their time in Saidabad. Promisingly, it looks like not only is the AO remaining stable but that the ALP is continuing to develop and gather support and volunteers from within both the Pashtun and Hazara Communities.