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Half a decade in Helmand

June 5, 2011

The fifth-year anniversary of the start of British operations in Helmand province recently passed. Ian Carr looks at the key moments between then and now.

This year marks the fifth anniversary of when nearly 3,500 British troops deployed to Helmand province. This was stage three of NATO’s plan to bring security to Afghanistan by expanding ISAF’s influence into the south of the country.

A Royal Air Force Chinook CH-47 comes in to land, carrying the final members of K Company, 42 Commando Royal Marines. Photo: PO(Phot) Sean Clee

The move meant that ISAF subsumed coalition forces that were already operating in Helmand. The deployment was consistent with the UK’s strategic plan for Afghanistan which argued for a single command and control authority which would establish a coherent, multinational approach in the province. And as a leading member of ISAF and NATO, it was important for the UK to show its commitment to the mission.

The objective was to extend government control in areas where the Taliban had held sway. This would be achieved by working jointly with Afghan institutions, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development to create provisional reconstruction teams which would establish development zones, which in time would spread outwards across Helmand, like ink on blotting paper.

Soldiers of 1st Battalion The Rifles on patrol during Operation TOR TAPUS in Helmand's Nawa district in March 2009 (stock image) Picture: PO(Photographer) Dave Husbands, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009

Famously, during a visit to Afghanistan in April 2006, the then Defence Secretary, John Reid, said:

“We’re in the south to help and protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave again in three years’ time without firing one shot.”

Many misinterpreted this as meaning there was an expectation, or hope, that we would leave without having fired a shot. In fact, the quote had been intended to reinforce the position that the UK troops’ goal was to protect governance and development activities as opposed to taking deliberate kinetic actions.

The fighting faced by 16 Air Assault Brigade in 2006 was ferocious, and, by the end of the year, troop numbers had been doubled. Today there are 130,000 ISAF troops in Afghanistan, of which the UK’s enduring contribution is well over 9,000.

The quality of equipment supplied to the Armed Forces began to attract much criticism, especially as the insurgents turned to improvised explosive devices as their weapon of choice, and in-service vehicles at the time were not capable of meeting the new threat.

To read the rest of this report by Ian Carr, click HERE on on the images above.

This article is taken from the June 2011 issue of Defence Focus – the magazine for everyone in Defence.

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