British air assault on Taliban stronghold

all photographs Crown Copyright/MoD 2009

More than 350 soldiers from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), have launched an airborne assault into one of the last Taliban strongholds.

RAF chinook helicopters

Twelve Chinook helicopters, supported by 13 other aircraft including Apache and Black Hawk helicopter gunships, a Spectre gunship, Harrier jets and unmanned drones, dropped the British soldiers into Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, just before midnight on Friday 19 June 2009.
The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), based at Fort George barracks near Inverness, started its first deployment to Afghanistan in April.  
RAF chinook helicopters on operations.

The aim of the operation, called Operation PANCHAI PALANG, which means ‘Panther’s Claw’, was to secure a number of canal and river crossings in order to establish a permanent International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) presence in the area.

Operation "Panther Claw" - copyright BBC

Operation "Panther Claw" - copyright BBC

The combat soldiers were quickly followed into the area by Royal Engineers and counter-IED (improvised explosive device) teams who have spent the last two days building a number of checkpoints on the main routes in and out of the area to stifle any movement by insurgents.

Over the last two days insurgents have launched a number of attacks against 3 SCOTS but each one has been repelled, allowing the British soldiers to secure three main crossing points: the Lui Mandey Wadi crossing, the Nahr e-Burgha canal and the Shamalan canal.

In addition, on Monday 22 June 2009, they also found 1.3 tonnes of poppy seed and a number of improvised explosive devices and anti-personnel mines before they could be laid. 

Once completed, the checkpoints will be manned initially by 3 SCOTS but within a few weeks they will be permanently occupied by the Afghan National Police.

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, Commanding Officer of 3 SCOTS, said:

“This has been a major air assault operation with a large number of helicopters, both UK and US. The Black Watch met some resistance but we were able to establish a firm foothold in the area.”

This is the latest of a number of operations in the last few months where UK and ISAF forces have taken and held ground in Helmand.

Operation ZAFAR, a week-long operation which began on 27 April, saw more than 200 Afghan National Army and Police, supported by UK troops from 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) and 2nd Battalion The Royal Gurkha Rifles, push the Taliban out of several villages around Basharan, near to the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah. The Afghan National Army cleared the enemy-held areas and police secured the villages and reassured the local population.

By the end of the week, groups of UK stabilisation teams were conducting meetings with the local elders who have been under the shadow of the Taliban for some time, offering a range of ways to help the villagers, from refurbishing schools to improving healthcare provision. 

Then in a four-day operation starting on 19 May, Operation ZARAF 2, 3 SCOTS secured an area, allowing time for a police checkpoint to be built and manned for use by the Afghan National Police on a main route into Lashkar Gah. By the end of the third day, the Afghan National Police had taken up position in the checkpoint.

Then, starting in the early hours of 29 May, troops from 2nd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers pushed the Taliban out of an enemy stronghold 6km to the south of Musa Qaleh, around the village of Yatimchay. The local population has been allowed to return to their homes and re-establish farming in the area.

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force Helmand, said:

“Operation PANCHAI PALANG is a mission to clear and hold one of the few remaining TalIban strongholds. The end result will provide lasting security for the local population free from intimidation and violence by the insurgents.

“By doing so, we show the commitment of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, supported by ISAF, to bring governance to local people, and give them the freedom and capacity to vote in the forthcoming presidential elections in August. Their lives will be measurably improved.

“While securing the area the troops have come across 1.3 tonnes of poppy seed and many components of IEDs, demonstrating the nexus between the insurgency and opium production which brings so much misery to the streets of the UK. They have also killed a number of insurgents who have attacked ISAF and ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces] troops.

“This operation has been achieved in many ways due to the arrival of extra US troops into the south of Helmand, which has provided ISAF with a massive increase in capability which we believe will significantly change the balance in the province.

“The UK has routinely operated with the US in Helmand since spring 2007 when the Special Purpose Marine Air to Ground Task Force – Afghanistan first arrived. The arrival of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan into southern and western Helmand is a continuation of that relationship.”

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