Nad'Ali: a Stabilisation Adviser writes........


Book Reviewer
Having just read Toby Harnden's 'Dead Men Risen' which focusses closely on the Welsh Guards deployment in the Nad'Ali area, I was intrigued to read a little about what it's like there now-ish. PB Shazad is in a village called Cha-e Anjir, though I'm pretty sure 3 Para have now returned .

Blog 5: "You can Go to Heaven. Me, I'll take indoor plumbing"

[snip bollox]

So, meanwhile here in Helmand, life moves on. 3 Para "cleared" insurgents from a community to the north of our area a few weeks ago and I was able to make my first visit to see how we could best assist the Afghan Government deliver basic services. In this village there is no Afghan government. No basic services. No police, no schools, no health care - well you get the picture. Zero.

Helicoptering to the Para patrol base which has been set up about 500m north of the village, we were briefed by the Company on the situation on the ground. The briefing had an "interesting" audio backdrop: prolonged bursts of automatic weapons’ fire. It was going to be One Of Those Days. Jumping into our body armour (actually this is more a practised shimmy) we headed out "On Patrol".

Troops making their way into a village

In a long, stretched out line, about 15 soldiers along with me, my bodyguard and my interpreter, we snaked our way into the village looking for locals to talk to. The first part of the village we entered was pretty empty. We stopped at a well near a mosque and a few children came over and, as usual, were asking for "kalem" (a pen) - a national obsession here. I sometimes think we could solve most issues in Afghanistan by handing out a few billion kalems. It'd be cheaper in the long run. And at least the kids would be happy.

The locals were not keen to talk to us (the Taliban were close by - as the early gunfire had hinted) but one or two lingered having been press-ganged into listening by the Afghan National Army colonel who accompanied us. He gave them a good lecturing on the evils of the Taliban - and how the Government and ISAF were coming to help them. They seemed impressed if a little non-plussed.

Moving on further into the village we visited another mosque where people were friendly and chatty. A small corner shop keeper asked if we could help repair the mosque which was used as a school and which needed its roof fixing. As my bodyguard, my interpreter and I wandered around looking at the mud structure and the rooms used for teaching, we were joined by a gaggle of village children. They went through the "kalem" routine but were more fascinated by my bodyguard's automatic weapon - and clearly wanted him to fire it. Kids these days eh, tsk. Just like Manchester. Stick with kalems, kids. It's safer.

The mosque looked to be a bit of a centre for the community and getting the government to help them seemed a good thing to do. We'll pursue roof repairs and then some equipment: text books, exercise books, "kalems" (of course) and other bits and pieces. The aim would be to pull all this together and then get the District Governor up to hand everything over and explain that the Afghan government is there to help the people. Well that's the theory. Of course it's never that simple and, doubtless, we will hit all sorts of roadblocks en route to delivering something relatively straight-forward.

Cash: To do my job I need access to cash. A fair bit of it in Afghan terms. Millions. I have been promised a safe to store it but, for the moment, use an old ammunition box which I keep locked and cable-tied to my desk leg..... (Royal Bank of Scotland you should try this). I was running pretty short so had to travel to the headquarters of the UK-driven Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lash Gar, Helmand's provincial capital, to fill up my box. I only get notes of 500 (roughly $7 or $10) and 1000 "Afghanis”. This usually mounts up to an impressive 12"-14" of bank notes stacked up.

access to local water resources

But the best part of going to Lashkar Gah is the food and plumbing. Real food. Fresh food. Joined up food. Food that those of us who work in Patrol Bases can only dream of: cheese (Brie!), proper toast, things that go crunch rather than squish when you bite them. And then there are indoor loos, indoor showers, indoor pipes that aren't frozen in the morning..... woohoohoohoohoo! Mark Twain wrote, "You can go to heaven. Me, I'd rather go to Bermuda". Mark was a guy who knew a thing or too. Me, I've lived in Bermuda and would also prefer there to heaven. But for indoor plumbing I'd sell my soul and Bermuda. How about those Onions, Mark?

.......not all civvies in Afghanistan live in the 'luxurious' glamour of Camp Bastion...... :party:


Book Reviewer
from May....3 Para have handed over....
I'm up pretty early in the mornings - especially as it's now getting really hot (low-40s at the moment and due to go to the low 50s! And yes, that's centigrade). I try to squeeze in a visit to the base's gym, which is outdoors, before it's hot enough to cook my brain.

Some decades ago there used to be adverts for the Charles Atlas Fitness Program (No, I'm not that old:
my grandfather told me about them) where a hapless 9-stone weakling on the beach had sand kicked in his face by some muscle-bound hunk.

Mercy, it's not hard to feel like that 9-stone weakling when visiting the gym here. Some of these 42 Commando guys are seriously well-built and seem to be able to bench press cement mixers.

Military kitchen at night

The stabilisation business has been very brisk the last couple of weeks. And, happily, and almost unusually, we have made some real progress. The opening of a clinic in one community last Saturday was the result of 7 months of to-ing and fro-ing, negotiating, cajoling, persuading, arguing and herding cats. But we did it! A grand opening is planned by the District Governor in a few weeks time. This will be only the 4th health care centre in the entire district so it feels like a great achievement. And with two schools now looking good to open with the new Afghan school year in September, there is a strong sense of things slowly coming together. But we all still hold our breath for the start of the fighting season. The poppy harvest is almost gathered and it will be another couple of weeks before we see whether the bad boys took enough of a pounding last winter to keep them out. Or, at least, are less capable than they were in October. Time will tell. Fingers crossed please, people.

Talking of the District Governor, the DG.... if you have followed this column you may have read that, in another life, I used to be the Deputy Governor of Bermuda. Back in those days I had a baseball cap for the weekends which had "DG" embroidered on it in big green letters. I thought I should gift this to the DG for Nad-e Ali district. With a huge grin he whipped off his turban and, voila, my old DG baseball cap had one new owner. I thought it a fitting rest home. From Bermuda to Helmand. Not much difference eh?

Watching a DVD after dark at military base

I have said before that life can be surreal here. A village shura the other day, attended by the DG, ended in some acrimony with lots of yelling and shouting. All quite Afghan. But after decades of fighting and mistrust, getting a community talking again amongst themselves can be the most important achievement. So yelling and shouting is not too bad. The DG and I left to mull over what next. Sitting in the tent of the local commander of the Afghan National Army, the DG flipped on the TV set and was soon engrossed in the local version of "Deal, No Deal".

There is something totally surreal in trying to discuss how to help an Afghan village whilst musing over whether the female contestant should accept the 50,000 Afghanis (that's money not people) on offer. The DG's conclusion was that we shouldn't agree with what the village was asking. Actually he said "the hell with them" and took another handful of excellent pistachio nuts - which accompany any Afghan meeting. And yes, he thought that the contestant should refuse the deal. She did. And lost.
....... moving on.....
''Moving on further into the village we visited another mosque where people were friendly and chatty. A small corner shop keeper asked if we could help repair the mosque which was used as a school and which needed its roof fixing.''
Haha. Afghans don't love building yourself life, they love Muhammad. ''Give me money, give me money and works for me.''
This is a really good thread. Please keep it coming, especially the photos.


Book Reviewer
awww....never be able to fit my bonedome y'go....

Be interesting to hear from other Arrsers who have done the PRT/STABAD role whether in AFG or previously on TELIC.......frustrations/highs and lows?

There are various truisms about this job which have been passed on to me which I'd like to share with you: "never miss the opportunity for a brew, a sleep or a toilet stop". Wise words indeed.

And "there is no such thing as a bad leave". Having just got back from an excellent break with friends and family - and loaded up with the essentials of life, Italian panettone and amaretti (from Rome no less. Thanks, Rad!) I can heartily agree.

However, it's a strange and unsettling feeling to be enjoying a leave break when the military friends you leave behind are in action and suffering casualties. Within a day of me leaving Shazad, 42 Commando had one marine killed. And, as I was flying back into theatre, 3 more. The UK media cover the deaths with, rightly, sombre and sympathetic coverage. A lot less is said about those who are wounded - often with life-changing injuries. One of the Company commanders - a youngish Major who I had come to admire - was, sadly one of them. An excellent bloke: clever, funny, enthusiastic and sensible - he was on the receiving end of shrapnel from an IED which, thankfully, did not kill him but has left him with lung injuries which will take some time to, hopefully, recover. It's times like this when, as I have written before, you do wonder if it is all worthwhile. I have nothing but admiration for 42 Commando: they redouble their efforts and "crack on".

It's not just the military temperature which has risen. Yesterday it was 46 degrees in the shade. The generator which powers our compound could not cope, over-heated and cut out. No power, no lights, no communications - and, almost worse, no air-conditioning. And believe me, metal ISO containers are not built to operate without air-conditioning. It was some 7 hours before the generator had cooled down enough to re-start. By then it was 37 degrees indoors. Could I actually air-condition the generator? Even the military communications systems are packing up in the heat. And it's only early June!

Meanwhile, back on the work front, 42 Commando have just removed the Taliban from the village of Loy Mandeh Kalay to the north-east of us. I got up there for the first time the day after I got back. A refurbishment of the badly damaged, deserted bazaar is probably the best way we can help the community there get back on its feet after 3-4 years of Taliban occupation. It is certainly what they have asked for. It used to be a thriving centre of trade and commerce. Hard to believe when you see the state of it now. Work has started with us paying contractors to clear as much ground debris as possible. And we are working with the Mayor of Nad-e Ali district to register the shopkeepers and see how we can best help them rebuild.

It'll be a long job - and a long, hot summer ahead. Slice of panettone anyone?
.......good luck Tim...keep it coming....


Book Reviewer
bit of collateral from another source:

Just over a week after British and Afghan forces launched a major operation into an insurgent stronghold in Helmand, the local community is embracing their newly-liberated village and looking to the future.

An Afghan National Army soldier provides security at a shura hosted by the District Governor in Loy Mandeh village in northern Nad 'Ali, Helmand province, southern Afghanistan [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Dave Hillhouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

More than a hundred local people attended a shura in the area of Loy Mandeh in Nad 'Ali to discuss how to rebuild their livelihoods after British troops helped to liberate the area known as the 'last ulcer' in the protected community that has been created in central Helmand.

Loy Mandeh, which straddles the boundaries of three districts, has been home to insurgents who have threatened and intimidated the population, with the once bustling bazaar reduced to a deserted, barren wasteland.

At the end of May, Afghan National Army (ANA) warriors, supported by British Royal Marines and soldiers, launched an assault on the area to drive the insurgents out and restore security to the lives of the people of Loy Mandeh, Kopak and Malgir.

Operation OMID HAFT, which was planned and led by the ANA's 3/215 Corps, with ISAF forces in support, not only succeeded in pushing back the insurgents, but also won over the people living in the area.

Earlier this week, just days after the start of the operation, more than a hundred key community figures and village elders attended a shura in the village of Loy Mandeh, hosted by the District Governor.

All the security was provided by the Afghan National Security Forces with members of the Police searching people on arrival and the Army providing a cordon around the shura.

At the meeting, held in the centre of the village, District Governor Habibullah spoke passionately and enthusiastically about his plans to redevelop the area and return it to its former state.

He encouraged locals to register shop ownership with the mayor and asked everyone to help do their part to restore prosperity to the previously ravaged village.

Afghan policemen search people before they attend a shura, hosted by the District Governor, in Loy Mandeh village [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Dave Hillhouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

District Governor Habibullah's key message to the group was clear:

"The Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan can provide for you where the Taliban have failed."

Lieutnenant Colonel Ewen Murchison, Commanding Officer of 42 Commando Royal Marines (42 Cdo RM), attended the shura to hear the locals' response to the military action.

Lt Col Murchison said:

"Many of the people here had been forced to flee from their homes up into the Bowri area to escape the insurgents. Their willingness to return to their village and so soon after it had been liberated and in such numbers is an encouraging sign that there is a genuinely strong appetite among the people for change.

"It's clear they all want to help so that business and commerce can return to Loy Mandeh in the near future. The presence of the Government of Afghanistan, supported by ISAF, has demonstrably improved the quality of their lives."

Work on the development projects discussed at the shura is already underway. Local contractors have been employed to start the clearance of the old, derelict shops.

Royal Engineers from the Counter-IED Task Force have cleared more than eighteen IEDs to ensure routes are safe for the passage of people, equipment and materials needed for the projects.

District Governor Habibullah addresses a crowd of a hundred locals during a shura in Loy Mandeh village [Picture: Leading Airman (Photographer) Dave Hillhouse, Crown Copyright/MOD 2011]

Tim Gurney is the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team's Stabilisation Advisor to Combined Force Nad 'Ali (North):
"The shura in Loy Mandeh Kalay was a huge step forward," he said. "With the recent removal of the Taliban, for the first time for some years District Governor Habibullah was able to visit and speak directly to the community and hear their concerns. The District Governor offered the help and support of the Afghan Government in rebuilding the community and thanked ISAF for their support."

Leading Airman Dave Hillhouse is the 42 Cdo RM photographer who captured the historic moment said: "It was amazing to see so many people turning up. We started off with about 50 locals, but half way through the shura several vehicles all turned up with around another 50 people who had come down from the Bowri area."Everyone seemed very relaxed, and the ANA and ANP [Afghan National Police] seemed to be working with each other very effectively."

Given that pictures tell a thousand words, I came across a good Gallery of images from the recent Op OMID HAFT which involved RM Commandos and 1 RIFLES here

DII users can't access the MOD imagery on FLICKR <sigh> so I've loaded a couple of the excellent shots up to the Arrse Gallery. Bear with me....

All pictures below are by Royal Navy's PO (Phot) Hamish Burke

Images of A Company, 1 Rifles taking part in Operation OMID HAFT.

Hundreds of Afghan soldiers, supported by British and coalition forces have taken part in a major operation in Central Helmand to clear out insurgents from one of their last remaining strongholds.

Operation OMID HAFT has been planned and executed by the Afghan National Army (ANA) partnered by International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

1 Rifles work on building defensive positions and grueling task of filling 100s of sandbags used in gun positions + filling up holes in compound wall improving security

Ops isn't all about fixed bayonets ;-) ..... experienced patrol medic ....

Images of A Company, 1 Rifles Conducting a Helicopter Assault Force (HAF) Operation into the town of Alikosi in Helmand province where they were to take over a local compound in the Taliban strong hold and set up and Operational Check Point (CP ZARAWAR). From Here the guys will patrol out at the same time as building up defences for their position and improving living conditions they will integrate with locals provide security and force the Insurgency out of the area.
Outstanding. Heartfelt thanks to all the lads out there and to you for giving us a look in!
Preparing for incoming here, but there is a rather good blog from a RAF techie type who was on a stabilisation team with 2 PARA, I think.

I'll try to look it up but it was a very interesting read.


Book Reviewer
Thanks for sharing all that info and the pics- much appreciated. My son is out there at the moment.
Cripes peeps - the credit should go to the STABAD who is at the sharp end, Tm Gurney (pictured) ....but famx anyway :)

Warning - his boyhood hero was Colin Bell and he wants Old Trafford turned into a car park......

I'll try and scoop up a few more dits and repost - but to reiterate the link is here LINKY

Doofus - tell yr boy to keep his bonce down and his Kirk Douglas cleft chin up :)

Goatman, there are some really great photos here, imho, esp the matelot. The Media Ops people are getting better and better. Hats off...


Book Reviewer
#13 y'go....bit dated now but from the STABAD ( Hamish Wilson ) who was working with the USMC when they took over from the Brits in Musa Qalah:

Major Justin Ansel, second in command of the First Battalion, Eight Marine Regiment

“I grew up dreaming of becoming a Navy Seal. Then I met some Marines,” says Major Justin Ansel, the Battalion Executive Officer. “17 years later and I’ve never looked back.”

As second in command of the First Battalion, Eighth Marine Regiment, he has the daunting task of managing well over a thousand Marines across two districts engaged in ‘full-spectrum counter-insurgency operations’. When you first meet Ansel, he embodies the image of a Marine – broad shouldered, a strong handshake, and with an air of no-nonsense competence.

Working with the US Marines intrigued me from the first moment. Their reputation is hewn from iconic battles in exotic places – Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima, Khe Sanh… but just how does this legendary history translate into reality here in Musa Qal’eh?

There is no doubt that US Marines are a breed apart (I was politely informed very early on that Marines are not ‘soldiers’ – which refers to US Army). I was struck by the obvious distinctions; the ‘high and tights’ (fiercely cropped haircuts), their impressive appetite for physical training, the dog tags sewn into their boots, the famed Eagle, Globe and Anchor symbol adorning their fatigues, their guttural greetings of ‘Oorah’

They are a force designed for expeditionary warfighting – taking the battle to a foreign enemy wherever they may be. And this approach pervades life in Musa Qal’eh; essentially Marines carry all they need with them, forgoing creature comforts to make do with what they have. (‘Living austere’ is the jargon.) Such a mindset also means a constant state of combat readiness. Out here, that means every Marine carries a weapon no matter what they’re doing, and that includes eating, sleeping and showering.

I was also struck by Ansel’s passion for the Corps. It is this spirit that seems to bind all Marines. “We are fanatical about our history – it’s who we are.” he tells me.

And he is right. It was their courage in the famed (and terribly bloody) battle of Belleau Wood in World War One which sealed their reputation. A letter taken from the body of a German solider read “I don’t know who we are fighting, but they are like Hounds from Hell.”

Now the Devil Dogs, as they have come to be known, number over 220,000 troops, which is more than the entire British Armed Forces. They have become the world’s largest mobile military, supporting three fully equipped ready-reaction task forces around the globe at any one time.

Ansel, who is nearing the end of his seventh tour, seemed to capture the mood of the Marines in Musa Qal’eh. “We’ll do whatever it takes to get this done.” referring to the campaign in Musa Qal’eh and Now Zad,. “And I’m proud of the sacrifice we’re making here - it honours all those who have gone before us.” His words also resonate with the Corps’ own battle cry;

Semper Fidelis. Always Faithful
Hamish takes the long view:

Over the next two years, international forces are expected to draw down, offering ‘strategic overwatch’ as Afghan government and security forces take the reins. Some argue that it is not soon enough, others that a few short years offers too little time to build the institutions that will be expected to endure beyond 2014.

Either way, the deadline has noticeably stiffened the resolve of coalition and Afghan partners to zero in on what it will take to ‘transition’ this battle-scarred province without a return to the not-so-distant days of Taliban rule and tribal conflict.

Other factors are also playing their part in concentrating attention on the ‘end-state’; the promised US military drawdown will begin to take effect sometime this year, and President Karzai’s administration is under increasing pressure to demonstrate its ability to take the lead.

Such capricious dynamics have sparked a low-key yet ambitious undertaking to define a roadmap for transition, to chart a course to 2014 and beyond. In principle, it sounds straightforward; figure out what Helmand should look like in 2014 or thereabouts, work backwards, and a plan should emerge. The reality is that its creation has been a dazzlingly complex undertaking…

Over the past five months, planning teams have been zealously gathering views from across the province and beyond. In the districts, local officials and police chiefs, alongside civilian advisers and military commanders have been pondering their priorities over endless cups of tea. In the provincial seat of Lashkar Gah, line ministry representatives have discussed and debated with PRT civilians, who in turn have spent painstaking hours alongside their NATO counterparts. Countless drafts have been exchanged between Helmand, Kabul, London and Washington.

altWe stand now giddily on the brink of completion – edging closer to a final document that will comprise a visionary ‘capping document’ underpinned by thematic plans, which in turn inform district plans… Its 67 single-spaced pages and sheaf of annexes belying the labours of its creation.

It may be easy to understate the significance of this innocuous document, but its effects should quickly become visible; the shift from company commanders spending military funds to build a bridge or repair a canal to Afghan community groups and line ministries using on-budget funds to determine development priorities for their own people. It’s frought with risk, but vital if Afghans are to assume leadership. But so far, only half the battle has been fought.

There are innumerable cases of superbly drafted plans laying dormant on the shelves of corporate suites and government departments the world over, quietly gathering dust despite the fanfare associated with their unveiling. The Helmand Plan 2011-2014 is no different. As Major Kim Noedskov, one of the authors of the plan, bluntly puts it, “The plan is not important. Its understanding and implementation is.”

And he is right. For such an elaborate design to take effect – that is, to change the way of doing business here in Helmand, the vision and roadmap it describes must find themselves woven into the daily ‘battle rhythms’ of tens of thousands of NATO troops, their Afghan partners and into the very fabric of the myriad institutional layers that comprise this vastly complex campaign.

It strikes me that three factors will determine whether or not this plan will have some hope of shaping the daily actions of those on the ground; the trinity of civilian stabilisation teams, military commanders and Afghan officials;

Crucially, it will take leadership; the extent to which this plan continues to be genuinely and visibly endorsed at the highest levels of civilian and military command. Second, it must be embraced by those with the money, Afghan and international alike, who must be compelled to spend their dollars in accordance with this plan - and no other.

Finally, people must be held to account for delivering on the goals and milestones of the plan. This will especially contentious, when systems of managing performance and directing effort vary wildly across the institutional spectrum. To be fair, it is early days. The plan has barely been unfurled, and high marks must be given for a determined effort thus far. It will take some time yet before its intricacies begin to trickle down to the grunts on the front line. It should also be pointed out however, that the final votes wont be counted for a few more years yet.


Book Reviewer
42 Cdo replaced the Paras in Nad'Ali area in May. Their CO gives an update on the Herrick FaceBook site - worth a listen:


(Not for you though DII-guy....back of the queue !)
42 Cdo replaced the Paras in Nad'Ali area in May. Their CO gives an update on the Herrick FaceBook site - worth a listen:


(Not for you though DII-guy....back of the queue !)
Nice link, you can see some of my handywork in the background haha

Was on H13 and everytime we went into PB shahzad it was a stag list or a shit job list that had my name all over it :)


Book Reviewer
Another short dit - from BFBS SOURCE
Just last year it would have been unthinkable but an open air all-night music concert really has just taken place in Nad-e Ali.

Noor Mastana - a well known Afghan band from Kandahar province – has performed in Char-e Anjir town centre, watched by hundreds of local people.

The event, organised by Afghan police, is seen as further proof that the Taliban has lost its grip and Afghan forces have strengthened theirs in Afghanistan.

Char-e Anjir was once the scene of fierce fighting by insurgents. The local bazaar was a well known drugs market where enemies of the government funded attacks.

Thanks to improved security from the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) working alongside their Afghan colleagues, the Afghan Uniformed Police have been able to organise the concert and provide assurance to those attending that they’ll be kept safe.

Abisin Matkil is a DJ for the local radio station in the town. He said: “The District Chief of Police was so confident the event would be a success, he asked to come onto the radio to advertise it and invite all local Afghans to attend.”

Despite the risk that insurgents may try to target the event, hundreds turned out to enjoy the music and send a defiant message that they welcome the new security that’s being provided by the Afghan National Security Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA).

Shah Rasoul Tabasom is one of the locals who attended: “Many people from Chah-e-Anjir have come to tonight’s concert as it is the first concert we have had for a long time. I am feeling very happy because the band is playing for us and we are enjoying the music.”

Another of the concert-goers, Hamidullah Zegham, said: “Everyone feels very happy, because the people of Char-e-Anjir have faced much sadness because of the war, but I see them now they are happy and all the youths are eating and drinking together.”

It is thought this is the first concert in Char-e Anjir in 12 years. Thanks to the excellent planning and coordination by the AUP, there was no violence and the whole night passed off without incident.

Captain Alex Crawley 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles (2 RGR) is Officer Commanding, of the Police Mentoring and Advisory Group in Shahzad: “This whole event was an AUP idea, planned and then executed by them with no input from us. It shows how they are ready to defy the insurgents in an area that only 7 months ago was basically a battleground. It represents a real sign of progress that we can leave Afghanistan in the hands of the Afghan security forces.”

Lieutenant Colonel Ewen Murchison, the Commanding Officer of 42 Commando Royal Marines and Combined Force Nad-e Ali North: “I’m extremely pleased that this event has gone ahead successfully, but even more pleased that is was planned and executed entirely by the Afghan Police Force. This concert is representative of huge leaps forward in their capability. Let us also not forget that this is a credit to the local population who have taken the conscious and courageous step of openly supporting Afghan Government led initiatives, turning their back on the insurgency.”


Book Reviewer
Only if they want the enemy to win.....what a truly horrible story you found in the Dhaka gazette.....

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