14 Dec 09 The Household Cavalry Regiment have been in Helmand for two months. Here their Commanding Officer talks about how the troops are in contacts with the enemy daily but that they have the insurgents on the back foot.
The Household Cavalry Regiment took over the command of Battle Group North West in Helmand province from 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers in October 2009.
The area includes the town of Musa Qaleh in the north of Helmand province as well as the area around Babaji which was cleared of Taliban control in this summer's Operation PANTHER'S CLAW.
The Household Cavalry Regiment's Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Harry Fullerton, explains what the Battle Group have been up to:
"Battle Group North West's Headquarters has now been in Helmand province for two months and, depending on the squadron, soldiers have done either a little more or little less time than this.
"All of us, no matter in what part of the province we are, are now fully bedded in and some have already completed over a third of our tour.
"We find ourselves spread out across the Task Force Helmand area, with the Battle Group Headquarters, a troop from A Squadron and C Squadron in Musa Qaleh, A and B Squadron in Babaji, although this does change according to Brigade Reconnaissance Force taskings, and HQ Squadron split between Camp Bastion, FOB [Forward Operating Base] Edinburgh, just west of Musa Qaleh, and Musa Qaleh district centre.
"Other individuals find themselves in Sangin and out with Combat Logistic Patrols as Forward Air Controllers and in Lashkar Gah as Liaison Officers.
"I have also formed E Squadron, consisting of both Household Cavalrymen and attached arms, who work as the Influence Group in Musa Qaleh; a most vital role in winning the support and consent of the local population.
"The Battle Group in Musa Qaleh is by no means just Household Cavalry and the command includes A Company, 2 Royal Welsh [2nd Battalion The Royal Welsh], in Warrior armoured vehicles; A Company, 1 Royal Anglian [1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment], in the light role; B Company, 2 YORKS [2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment] Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team [OMLT]; L (Néry) Battery from 1st Regiment Royal Horse Artillery; Royal Engineers, REME [Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers], Royal Signals, logisticians and many other specialist capabilities.
"The headquarters is based in the district centre, collocated with an Afghan National Army battalion [3/205 Kandak], Afghan National Police and Afghan Intelligence Services.
"We total about 650 people in the Battle Group. Much has changed since the Battle Group was last here, less the infrastructure, which is largely unchanged.
"Our troop, from A Squadron, is based in Jackal and C Squadron has Mastiff armoured trucks, as well as a troop of Scimitars. They punch well above their weight and have proved that recce [reconnaissance] can be done in whatever vehicle is provided.
"Musa Qaleh is a long way north of the central part of Task Force Helmand and is in a situation of its own, quite unlike the other Battle Groups in many ways.
"Together with the Afghan National Security Forces, we hold a 'protected area', or 'ring of steel', as it is more colloquially known.
"This is relatively free of the violence one associates with other areas, although there are always exceptions, and predictions are for a rise in bombings before Christmas.
"On our flanks the situation is one of intermittent conflict and the troops are in contacts or situations most days.
"Our southern and northern flanks are covered by the two infantry companies and the OMLT. The companies play a key role in influencing the local population as well as defending the flanks and defeating the enemy when the opportunity arises.
"There is no doubt that in many respects we have the insurgents on the back foot and, together with our predecessors, we have dealt the insurgents a large blow and continue to do so.
"C Squadron has played a key role in all of this and has performed outstandingly.
"As Mastiff is the vehicle of choice for moving around, it is key to all our operations. Most of the time we find IEDs [improvised explosive devices] by searching the ground before driving over it, but, nevertheless, five Mastiffs have been hit by large IEDs, which includes my headquarters vehicle. Due to the Mastiff design, there have been no casualties from this action.
"The Recce Troop have been involved in a number of fire fights whilst either working with the Kandak and with the Battle Group.
"CoH [Corporal of Horse] Harrison had a lucky escape when his Jackal was hit by small arms fire in the most recent Battle Group operation. One round hit his helmet, with the round entering on the right-hand side and exiting out of the top, thankfully leaving him only concussed.
"Earlier this week whilst working with the Kandak, one vehicle struck an IED resulting in Lance Corporal Jones and Trooper Ward being CASEVACd [casualty evacuation] to the UK.
"CoH Phelan, our Buzzard, was hit by some debris thrown up by a Chinook on landing, seriously puncturing his back. He is now making a recovery in Selly Oak Hospital, but is unlikely to return to duty for this tour.
"The courage of the young soldiers who regularly have to search forward for IEDs with metal detectors in incredible, especially as the insurgents are getting craftier by the day and now are making IEDs with very low metal content.
"Elsewhere, B Squadron - the Brigade Recce Force [BRF], have been heavily involved in operations in the Babaji area. They have been working on their feet as much as in their vehicles.
"They have taken two casualties to date, Private Thapa, Queen's Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment, and Corporal Williams, 1 Royal Welsh [1st Battalion The Royal Welsh], who both received gunshot wounds but should make full recoveries.
"Sadly, Sergeant Loughran-Dickson, a Royal Military Policeman attached to the BRF, died of a gunshot wound.
Lieutenant Colonel Harry Fullerton
"It reinforces the point of how treacherous the conditions are for all troops out here and what risks all the young men and women take.
"However, across the board there have been notable successes. In Musa Qaleh, we have just completed an operation that led to the withdrawal of Taliban from three villages and the formation of a new forward checkpoint. If we had more troops we could do even more.
"A Squadron, based in both Jackal and Scimitar, are also a Task Force Helmand asset. They have been working over the River Helmand in the Babaji area with the Coldstream Guards and Grenadier Guards. Key to their operations is to keep them moving every few days so the insurgents cannot fix the vehicles by placing IEDs around them.
"Conditions for the soldiers on the front line and those living in the forward patrol bases are fairly sparse, but a lot is being done to make things better.
"The degree of ingenuity and seeing what can be made out of apparently nothing is astonishing. Most bases have access to be able to contact home in the UK even if it is just via a satellite phone.
"We are currently stocking up supplies for the winter, which have so far failed to show, but the worst of the weather is expected in January and February, along with swollen rivers and wadis.
"For patrol bases, the conditions do not look that dissimilar to trenches and dug-outs from the First World War."