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UK armed forces and defence

Hundreds of ISAF coalition troops have attacked a network of narcotics labs in the Sangin valley in Afghanistan as part of a substantial air assault which saw them seize a large amount of opium and kill a number of insurgents.

Eighteen UK, US and Australian helicopters carrying 300 soldiers from The 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, accompanied by Afghan troops, dropped into the Taliban held area just after nightfall on 7 August 2009.

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A British Chinook helicopter has been deliberately destroyed by ISAF Forces at 1605 local time having sustained damage on landing approximately 10km East of Sangin at 0530 this morning, Sunday 30 August 2009.

In addition to the four crew members the helicopter was carrying 15 soldiers from 2 RIFLES Battlegroup who were being inserted into the area as part of an ongoing security operation.

The aircraft is believed to have suffered a 'hard landing' and sustained damage to the undercarriage, nose and front rotor which subsequently made it unflyable. The crew and passengers were unharmed. The troops continued with the operation and the crew were extracted by one of the two other Chinooks also on the operation.

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Up to 400 soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) [2 YORKS] have commenced their deployment to Afghanistan as part of 11 Light Brigade, which replaces 19 Light Brigade this October.

They will take on the role of the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT). The purpose of the team is to develop the capabilities and maximise the effectiveness of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

The nature of the role in theatre will see the battalion operate in small teams, utilising a wide range of military and instructional skills to further develop their Afghan colleagues' capabilities.

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Have the lessons of Iraq been fully evaluated, taken to heart, and transferred to Afghanistan. Richard North - an occasional contributor to Defence Viewpoints and an assiduous blogger under Defence of the Realm - published a book "Ministry of Defeat, aiming squarely at this question, which was published in hardback on 31st May.

A reviewer wrote:

"Ministry of Defeat" is the first and only forensic examination of the political and military failures by the British in Iraq. As the government, the media and the army were quick to downplay the unfolding catastrophe as the birth pangs of democracy, the evidence from the front line was telling a very different story. Ministry of Defeat explores that evidence and paints a picture of Southern Iraq very different to the popular narrative.

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From the BBC Website, 17th September

A total of 71,560 members of Britain's armed forces have served in Afghanistan since 2001, the government has said.

Tory MP Philip Hollobone, who obtained the figures, said they revealed the full extent of Britain's commitment to the Afghan war for the first time.

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Mark Urban's book Task Force Black.
Published by Little, Brown (ISBN: 978 1 4087 0264 2)

Reviewed by Roger Green, Principal Reviewer, U K Defence Forum

Mark Urban is an established Diplomatic and Defence Editor for BBC Newsnight who has a well-deserved reputation as an author of military history as well as contemporary books about Special Forces and British intelligence. He is probably unique in that he has managed to cultivate a range of credible contacts within the Special Forces (SF) without which this authoritative book would probably not have been possible.

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An edited version of a speech to the Labour Party Conference by Rt Hon Bob Ainsworth MP, Secretary of State for Defence, 1st October 2009

Daily, our Armed Forces are doing a difficult job, taking great risk on our behalf, facing a violent and prolonged fight in Afghanistan.

Daily, there are reports of bravery – of acts of courage carried out in the line of duty by professional soldiers, doing their job.

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By Andras Besterczey

The last comprehensive formulation of defence policy, the Strategic Defence Review, is over a decade old, and policy and reality have greatly diverged. Now the British Army especially is overstretched in an unpopular stability operation – critically, unlike in the US we do not consider ourselves to be at war - with little political support. The issue surfaces in mainstream media from time to time with the debate surrounding the shortage of helicopters and criticism of the government for their lack of foresight to spend more on equipment required now rather than planning for future conflicts.

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GURKHAS PREPARE FOR AFGHANISTAN IN BRUNEI

By Captain Tom McShane

On the edge of the rainforest, in the searing heat and humidity of Brunei, fierce Gurkhas take the battle to the enemy in preparation for an upcoming tour to Afghanistan.

Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Gurkha Rifles have been training in their own back yard on Exercise COMMANDO RAJAH which is a massive Joint multi-national exercise involving the Royal Navy, Royal Marines, United States Marine Corps and the Bruneian Armed Forces.

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According to MoD figures in The Times October 13th, the 550 strong 2 Rifles was deployed in Sangin from April - October. It suffered 13 dead, 11 permanent serious injuries, 51 less seriously wounded.

Its commander Lt Col Robert Thomson says it dealt with more than 400 IED incidents, finding more than 200 devices. Last year there were 158 incidents.

His article reflects the positive achievements over the last 6 months in civic life and local security.

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The following is a brief overview of notable developments over the last year regarding the assembly of the Royal Navy's biggest ships.

7 JULY 2009
Ceremonial steel cutting.
A major milestone was achieved when the Princess Royal performed the first cutting of steel on HMS Queen Elizabeth. The ceremony took place at BAES' facility in Govan and was attended by hundreds of dignitaries from the Armed Forces, politicians from Westminster and the Scottish Parliament, members and employees of the Aircraft Carrier Alliance, industry stakeholders as well as employees and some apprentices from BAE and Babcock.

AUGUST 2009
First shipment from Babcock's shipyard in Appledore.

The first sponson units were successfully delivered from Appledore to Rosyth, this being the first shipment for the Queen Elizabeth Class from Appledore. The sponson units make up the overhanging upper hull structure.

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To judge from the British media, whose reportage sometimes verges on the hysterical, British troops are moving around Afghanistan in an inadequate number of death traps.

While it is true that approaching 100 troops have been killed this year, many of them by innoccuous sounding IEDs – landmines to you and me – there is a wide range and quantity of kit in theatre and more on the way. So far 500 vehicles have been delivered so far this year.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

Forever smiling, fixed at the age of eighteen, Cheryl James' portrait beams at us spotlit on the wall of her parents' Llangollen living-room, as Nicholas Blake QC announces to the press from the marble halls of Canary Wharf that his 2007 review of the deaths of four young recruits at Deepcut Barracks will not recommend a public inquiry.

On the 'balance of probabilities', and against the current of alternative evidence, three of the deaths are pronounced likely to have been self-inflicted. No suspicion of foul play is established in the case of the fourth.

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OP GHARTSE GHADMAHE 3

22 Nov 09. This operation was designed to push back insurgents operating to the south of Sangin District Centre, expanding the area of security around Sangin DC and continuing to improve the quality of life for the locals. Pushing the insurgents and any fighting away from the urban centre and therefore away from the civilian population is sound counter-insurgency practice, protecting the people, bringing them security.

The mission for A and B Companies of 3 RIFLES, supported by Viking armoured vehicles from Egypt Squadron, 2 Royal Tank Regiment, and by Afghan National Army forces, was for each Company to clear, occupy and complete the initial build of a new Patrol Base (PB) each in the "Green Zone" to the south of Sangin DC. The "Green Zone" is the heavily irrigated and vegetated land either side of the Helmand River where the Taliban had been operating from. Numerous IEDs were cleared as the troops moved south to the compounds which were to be the locations of the new Patrol Bases. The Royal Engineers then worked throughout the rest of the day and night to put in place sangars and firing points and establish the new bases. The missions were completed within 24 hours.

The names for the new PBs are now being chosen by Colonel Wadood of the ANA to reflect the UK/ISAF role of acting in support of the ANSF.

In 2007 the bazaar in Sangin DC was largely deserted. Today the security situation is such that there are over 200 stalls open each day. While Afghan National Police take as much of a lead as possible for security within the urban area, the Afghan National Army and ISAF forces continue to expand the security "bubble" around the Centre. Op Ghartse Ghadmahe is another step in this process.

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B Company and Royal Engineers preparing the compound for troops to move in.

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Viking armoured vehicles help to move stores to A Company's new Patrol Base.

ANP GET PERMANENT CHECKPOINT IN SANGIN DC
6 Dec 09. Progress is being made on the Government led provision of new ANP permanent checkpoints. In Sangin the building work on a new checkpoint has progressed swiftly in the past 3 weeks, with 2 buildings nearing completion. The new checkpoint will provide the ANP with a permanent base from which to patrol the streets of Sangin. It is hoped that by the end of December works will be completed and contractors can move on to new Vehicle Checkpoints for the ANP.

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Early stages of the observation tower build in Sangin

Observation tower on the Northern Checkpoint in Sangin nearing completion.

CIVIC IMPROVEMENT WORKS IN SANGIN DC
6 Dec 09. The Mayor's work in the Sangin District Centre Bazaar is beginning to show clear results. His Municipal Services Department have made significant progress cleaning the streets of Sangin and clearing the gutters that run alongside the road. Contractors are now building three extensions to the tarmac roadway in Sangin to the North, South and Central to the Bazaar.

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Road contractors working hard on one of 3 extensions to the tarmac road in the bazaar.

DENIAL OF BRIDGE IN SANGIN
6 Dec 09. During an Operation in the early hours of 03 December, 3 RIFLES continued their plans to deny insurgents access routes to and from population centres with the destruction of a bridge at a known insurgent crossing point. At 0500 troops deployed from new Patrol Base ALMAS and pushed West and North of the canal to allow engineers to place charges on the Bridge. The demolition was fired at first light and successfully created a 10 metre gap across the canal. Insurgents are now forced to use routes that pass within the arcs of the new patrol bases, thus allowing 3 RIFLES greater ability to track their movement throughout the area of operations.

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Charges emplaced under the cover of darkness

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Demolition fired at first light

3 RIFLES HOST AFGHAN JOURNALISTS ON VISIT TO SANGIN DC
6 Dec 09. This week saw 3 RIFLES BG hosting Afghan Journalists for the first time. Journalists were escorted through the bazaar where they got the opportunity to talk to the local population about how they feel progress is Sangin is being made.  The journalists also met and interviewed the ANP Southern Checkpoint Commander Abdul Rashied, Acting Chief of Police Rahullah, and ANA officer Capt Nadari.

3 RIFLES BG Chief of Staff, Major Dickie Head commented: "To meet and talk to the Afghan journalists who had made the effort to visit Sangin was a privilege. They were clearly individuals who took their job seriously while approaching it with a great deal of enthusiasm. The questions they asked were to the point and pragmatic, as one would expect of many Afghans. We did nothing more than tell them what we were doing and how we thought Sangin was progressing. Then, by taking them on patrol in the bazaar we let them make their own minds up. I am sure they are not so naοve as to think everywhere in our AO is as secure, but at least they will have had the chance to see things with their own eyes. It will be very interesting to see what they write."

IED FINDS IN WISHTAN
9 Dec 09. On 9 December British and Afghan soldiers spent time showing a recently found Improvised Explosive Device to locals living nearby to Patrol Base Wishtan, near Sangin, to encourage them to report details on further devices. The find occurred after a local Afghan reported its whereabouts to Afghan National Army members at nearby PB Wishtan.  Localelders promised to report the whereabouts of further devices to the ANA and ISAF. The device was later taken to a safe location to be disposed of. Major Graeme Wearmouth, Officer Commanding B Coy, 1 SCOTS commented:

"It was really heartening to see a local willing to pass on information to the Afghan National Army about IEDs. ISAF responded swiftly to the threat, which was a big IED placed on a busy junction which would have caused considerable damage had it detonated."

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Soldiers from B Coy 1 SCOTS explain the IED to local nationals

ANA AND ISAF HELP RESTORE LOCAL MOSQUE IN AREA SOUTH OF SANGIN
13 Dec 09. When an ANA group mentored by soldiers from the OMLT (Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team) arrived in Sangin the Mosque outside Patrol Base Pylae was in a terrible state after many years of conflict in the area. Despite the problems the people of the village still attended their Mosque.

After a number of meetings the restoration of this building should became a priority. Within the space of two weeks the construction was largely completed. A new school building was also added to the rear of the Mosque and a shower room was built with an area for people to wash their feet before prayer time

With the Mosque complete attendance has increased, and at least 30 children spend most of their day there. There is a lot of activity with the afternoon prayer being extremely busy. The Mullah, the locals and the children are thankful for what the ANA and ISAF have done for them.

The restoration of the Mosque highlights to the people in this village that ANSF and ISAF are there to help. More importantly it demonstrates that the Government can deliver a tangible improvement to their lives, something that the insurgents simply cannot offer.

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The mosque before the works – pock-marked with old bullet-holes

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The mosque after the restoration works

The material used in this post was supplied by the UK MoD

 

At about 1245hrs local time on Tuesday 15 December, in the Sangin Wadi, about 1800 metres to the east of Sangin District Centre's main Bazaar area a joint patrol of British troops from 3 RIFLES and Afghan troops had set up a vehicle check-poin.

The joint patrol was made up of 4 Afghan National Army  soldiers and 15 British soldiers from 3 RIFLES with an interpreter.  The Afghan soldiers are commanded by Colonel Wadood and 3 RIFLES by Lt Col Nick Kitson.  The two men live and work together from a forward operating base (FOB JACKSON) just to the north of Sangin DC, where their Headquarters are alongside one another.

The check-point was set up as part of the ongoing security operations which the local Afghan Army and Police, supported by 3 RIFLES, have been conducting to protect people in the centre of Sangin DC from insurgent attacks.

A motorcycle carrying two men came towards the check-point and drove straight into it, the insurgents' bombs exploding among the soldiers.  Two Afghan soldiers and two British soldiers were killed and two other Afghan soldiers seriously injured.

Afghan soldiers arriving at the scene extracted their own dead and wounded in one of their vehicles to FOB JACKSON where they were evacuated by a US casevac helicopter to the hospital at Camp Bastion.  In minutes a British Chinook medical evacuation helicopter arrived at the scene. It landed close to the incident under small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire, and evacuated the British casualties, who tragically were pronounced dead shortly after. They were later named as Lance Corporal David Kirkness and Rifleman James Brown, and their eulogies are published below.

The UK MoD says that it is too early to know for sure, and the incident will be subject to an investigation, but initial indications are that the motorcycle was carrying not one but two suicide bombers – reports from the scene suggest there was a double explosion.  It is thought the bombers were trying to get in to Sangin DC to attack the people there, possibly with one bomber killing himself and the other waiting to attack security forces or civilians in the aftermath. It seems that the bombers, on realizing they wouldn't get to the Bazaar because of the vehicle check-point they hadn't been expecting, blew themselves up among the soldiers.

Colonel Wadood and Lt Col Kitson went out together among the people in the Sangin DC Bazaar the following day.  Colonel Wadood took the opportunity to talk to as many people as possible, including a large group of local people that formed at one point, telling them: "The suicide bombers were making their way here, to the Bazaar.  Brave ISAF soldiers and Afghan Warriors died defending the safety of the Sangin people and this Bazaar."

He also stressed the need for the local people to go on taking greater ownership of their own security

"Colonel Wadood and I work very closely and we both felt strongly the need to make sure the people of Sangin DC understand the sacrifices being made by Afghan and British soldiers to protect them, and to reassure them we will not be intimidated by such acts.  We feel deeply the loss of our comrades, Afghan and British alike, but had it not been for their courage and bravery the potential loss of civilian lives in the heart of the Sangin community can only be guessed at," said Nick Kitson later.

Sangin District Centre is one of the protected communities in central Helmand alongside Gereshk, Musa Qualeh, Nad-e-Ali and Lashkar Gah where local people have been able to live lives protected from insurgent intimidation and violence and with their own security forces, the Afghan Police and Army, increasingly taking the lead.  It is in these centres that the economies are recovering and the international investment in reconstruction and redevelopment is under way.

Two years ago, the main Bazaar street in Sangin DC was a dusty main street with few shops open and for ISAF and local security forces was passable only in a heavily armoured vehicle.  Today it has over 200 stalls open daily, a metalled road, drainage, and Afghan Police and Army as well as ISAF troops walking about freely.

Afghan and British soldiers have recently been expanding the area under Afghan government control with a series of operations (known as Operation Ghartse Ghadmahe, reported on seperately in the blog ) pushing deeper in to the Green Zone (the irrigated and heavily vegetated areas astride the Helmand River) and other areas around Sangin DC to expel insurgents from areas from which they previously.  The soldiers have built new check-points and patrol bases to demonstrate to locals as signs of Afghan Government and ISAF commitment to their security.

This blog draws upon material supplied by the UK MoD.

 

The Secretary of State for Defence (The Rt Hon Dr Liam Fox MP): The significant increase in the number of international troops in southern Afghanistan is enabling commanders to make improvements in the laydown and command arrangements of coalition forces in the region.  The first of these was the handover of security responsibility for Musa Qaleh district in Helmand province from UK to US troops on 27 March.  This transfer allowed UK troops in Musa Qaleh to be redeployed to the population centres of central Helmand where they have increased ISAF's capacity to protect the Afghan civilian population from the threat posed by the insurgency, and to train and partner with the Afghan National Security Forces.

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LtJohnCharlesSandersonLieutenant John Charles Sanderson of 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) [1 MERCIAN], attached to 1st Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles Battle Group, died on Wednesday 11 August 2010 of wounds sustained in Afghanistan.

Lt Sanderson was wounded in an explosion whilst on patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province on 13 July 2010.

He was treated at the scene before being flown to the UK for further treatment. On Wednesday 11 August 2010, surrounded by his family, he finally succumbed to his injuries.

Lt Sanderson was born in Oklahoma USA on 23 April 1981. He was educated at Bradfield College and Exeter University where he read history and was a member of the University Officer Training Corps.

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As usual, the U.K. media has had a field day in running down this country's contribution to ISAF operations in Afghanistan. This short piece seeks to spoil their story with some facts.

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2 MERCIAN (Worcesters & Foresters) deployed to Afghanistan as the Operational Mentoring Liaison Team (OMLT) Battle group on 27 Mar 2009 for a 6 month operational tour and is due to return in late Septmber. This is the Battalion's 3rd tour of Afghanistan in 5 years, and it is part of 19 (Light) Brigade. One soldier tells a typical tale of service on operations.

Staff Sergeant Griffiths is half way through a six-month tour in Helmand Province, attached to The 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment. The Regiment's job in Afghanistan is to provide mentoring to the Afghan National Army, taking part in joint patrols and operations. Most of SSgt Griffiths' time is spent mentoring the Combat Support Services transport Sergeant Major of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

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CORPORAL JOSEPH ETCHELLS

KILLED IN ACTION NEAR FORWARD OPERATING BASE WISHTAN, SANGIN

SUNDAY 19TH JULY 2009

Corporal Etchells, or "Etch" to his mates, was born on the 23RD March 1987. He joined the Army in December 2003, and on successful completion of his infantry training at Army Foundation College, Harrogate, was posted to the Second Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers later that year. He was always eager and proud to be a Fusilier and Infantryman.

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