Deputy Commander Reflects on a Year in Helmand
“During my tour, I witnessed a profound improvement in the freedom of movement in Helmand. Roads that had been impassable became busy thoroughfares; new roads connected isolated communities with the main towns for the first time.”
Colonel Gerhard Wheeler from the Royal Welsh regiment was the Deputy Commander of Task Force Helmand throughout 2010. Here he reflects on the battles, losses and progress he witnessed.
As another set of grenades ripped through the fabric of the half-built hotel, I peered out from my nearby shelter, wondering how it would all end. The siege had kicked off just a couple of hours before, when the Taliban mounted a bold attempt to attack the home of Gulab Mangal, the Governor of Helmand province.
Six insurgents had occupied the four-storey construction site that overlooked the Governor’s compound in Lashkar Gah, Helmand’s capital, but no-one was aware of their presence until the leader of the Governor’s bodyguard, an old, Soviet-era mujahideen fighter, spotted one of them preparing a grenade-launcher and raised the alarm by opening fire.
That lit the touchpaper and the insurgents returned indiscriminate fire from every storey, seemingly intent on causing as much damage as they could with the short lives they had left. To the people of Lashkar Gah, each shot the cornered fighters fired was a brutal reminder of the very real threat the insurgency continued to pose to their future.
I had arrived in Afghanistan two months earlier. My one-year posting as the Deputy Commander of Task Force Helmand was to provide some continuity in an organisation where the norm [for British forces personnel] is to serve for six months.
My job bridged the worlds of the military task force, the civilian-led Provincial Reconstruction Team and the Afghan Government. It gave me a unique perspective on the events of 2010 in Helmand. It also meant that it fell to me to provide military advice to the Governor, especially when his house was under attack.
As a result, the moment I heard reports of insurgents in the hotel, I drove to the sound of the guns. It was 29 January 2010, my wedding anniversary. I remember thinking ‘Don’t mess this up because if the Taliban don’t kill me, my wife will’.
To read Col Wheeler’s full account of his year in Helmand as the Deputy Commander, click HERE