Highway to Helmand
Soldiers from the 9th/12th Royal Lancers have been helping to keep open one of the busiest roads in Afghanistan.
Highway 1 connects Kabul to Kandahar and is one the most important routes in the country, covering over 2000 kilometres. Nearly half of Afghanistan’s population lives within 50 kilometres of it.
“The security of Highway 1 is critical,” said Major Simon Doherty, Officer Commanding C Squadron, 9th/12th Royal Lancers. “It’s like the M1 in the UK, or the M25. It’s the main road through Helmand Province, and it carries a lot of traffic.”
A and C Squadron from the 9th/12th Royal Lancers have been working alongside around 80 men from the 2nd Kandak of the Afghan National Army (ANA) since March 2011, operating from a base they share in Gereshk.
The ANA controls the road from checkpoints at regular intervals, while the 9th/12th Royal Lancers advise them and patrol with them along a 70 kilometre section of the route.
“The security situation has seen a significant amount of progress, even in the short time that we’ve been here,” said Major Doherty. “The ANA’s ability to stop incidents on Highway 1 is derived from their presence on the road, and also from patrolling in depth in communities living along the route.”
The history of Highway 1 has been fraught with violence, with both insurgents and criminals intimidating road-users and laying improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
However, with the increased success of counter-IED units and regular patrolling from the ANA, there has been a reduction in incidents along the road, and the local population is now enjoying greater freedom of movement.
“We are doing a very good job in this area,” said Captain Ghulam Sakhi from the 2nd Kandak. “We have lots of soldiers to check the security of the road. We have night vision, and we are seeing everywhere.”
As well as the vehicle patrols along Highway 1, the 9th/12th Royal Lancers have also been taking part in foot patrols with the ANA in the surrounding area, meeting locals in compounds along the route.
“Every kind of patrol needs an Afghan face,” says Sergeant Christopher Liburd from C Squadron. “The locals are more inclined to talk to the ANA than to us. It’s gives them a good feeling, to know that the ANA can go out there and do the job to a high standard.”