PORTSMOUTH soldiers are set to make a push north in Afghanistan to take on the Taliban in a dangerous area of Helmand province.
Troops from C Company of the First Battalion Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment – known as The Tigers – will be moving in to a district called Nahr-e Saraj in the coming few weeks.
It comes just weeks after the company successfully completed the handover of a previous Taliban hotspot, Nad-e-Ali, to the Afghan government’s security forces.
For the first in a series of special reports, The News caught up with the Tigers in Camp Bastion where they are having a few weeks of refresher training ahead their new frontline mission.
Private Matt Suckling, 18, of North End, who is on his first tour of duty, said: ‘We have been training for us to push up to the north. It’s absolutely different up there from where we’ve just come from.
‘It’ll be tough but we’re absolutely prepared to do whatever it takes. We’re prepared to go. It’s not going to be all fun and games but that’s what we’re here for.’
In Nad-e-Ali, the Tigers saw through the last phase of making the area safe enough to be handed over to the Afghan forces to police on their own.
Only a few years ago the area was a battleground against the Taliban. In 2009, a rogue Afghan policeman gunned down Sergeant Major Darren Chant, formerly from Horndean, along with four other soldiers in a surprise attack at a checkpoint in the district.
British troops have overcome the tragic set-back, training up the Afghan National Police (ANP) officers to the point where commanders felt the area could be formally handed over last month.
The Tigers went to Nad-e-Ali in September at the start of a seven-month tour in Helmand and were often conducting two six-mile foot patrols a day in the area.
Private Dan Clover, 23, of Waterlooville, said: ‘It’s been really good so far. We’ve been pretty busy with our work doing patrols and security around the area. We were doing low-level patrols to reassure the population out in the area and making people feel safe going about their lives on a daily basis.’
Lance Corporal Martin Ralph, 20, of Fareham, added: ‘We’ve been with the ANP, patrolling with them to improve their drills. It’s not so much about teaching them, it’s just making sure they are following the training we’ve been giving them and doing things in the right way.
‘We’ve now handed over to the ANP. They seem to be pretty switched on so that’s good and all the locals seem to be happy with them taking over as well. It’s quite a satisfying feeling knowing we’ve done our job there.’
Because of the previous work in Nad-e-Ali by the Royal Marines and the Royal Irish Regiment, the Tigers said the handover process was fairly smooth with no visible resistance from the Taliban.
Private Joshua Drane, 23, of Havant, said: ‘It’s not been as bad as we thought it was going to be so far.
‘I think the second half of the tour is going to be harder than the first. The area we are going to is different to the one we were in before.
‘The locals in Nad-e-Ali were onside and there was no real Taliban influence.
‘But where we are going north there is.’
Sergeant Major says men are looking forward to new Afghanistan mission
C Company’s Sergeant Major Kevin Marsh said his Tigers are ready for their mission in northern Helmand and praised his riflemen for their efforts to hand over Nad-e-Ali to the Afghan forces.
He said: ‘We came into Nad-e-Ali knowing that it would be one of the first locations to be transitioned after the initial transition of Lashkar Gah. The area was fairly benign and the locals were fairly onside so the threat was a lot lower there.
‘Ned-e-Ali used to be what Nahr-e Saraj is like now. It used to have quite a high volume of Taliban in that area with a fairly substantial IED threat.
‘There were a lot of clearance operations by British forces to clear that area. The Royal Irish Regiment cleared a lot of Taliban last Christmas and neutralised the threat.
‘It was fairly benign over the summer with the marines and up until now which secured the conditions for transition.
‘We’ve pretty much achieved in the last three months what was scheduled to take 12 to 18 months which has allowed us to hand over the area to the Afghan security forces.
‘Now we’re going to Nahr-e Saraj in the north. Our job is to move up and take over that patrol base line and basically hold it and potentially clear some areas around there of the IED threat and small arms threat.’
He said the area they were heading had a ‘very high IED threat’.
‘Effectively, when you come out of the gate the threat goes through the roof,’ he said.
Despite the potential dangers facing his men, Sgt Maj Marsh said the Tigers were looking forward to the challenge.
He said: ‘Back home people fear for lads because of the threats they might face but soldiers want to do soldiering.
‘They’ve come to Afghanistan and it’s been fairly quiet for them so far. They’ve got that part of them that really wants to take on the Taliban in their ground.
‘We see it as a tale of two tours. We’ve cleared Nad-e-Ali and set out what we wanted to achieve there. Now we are retraining to keep our skills up to our current level and get ourselves in to the highest position so we’re ready to redeploy to the north some time in January for the last two months.
‘We’re going to take on the Taliban in their ground and hopefully bring everyone back safe and sound. We are relearning skills here in Bastion that will ensure we are at the highest level of readiness to take on that task and we’re looking forward to it.’