Belfast Telegraph

Ulster soldiers lead air assault aimed at taking fight to Taliban

By Lesley-Anne Henry

Soldiers from Northern Ireland have taken the lead in a major new offensive against the Taliban.

Operation Black Thorn, a massive air assault, was launched during the early hours of Tuesday morning, in the rugged Shin Kalay region of Helmand Province.

Troops from the Royal Irish Regiment (RIR), and Afghan National Army soldiers, moved in under the cover of darkness to search compounds, clear out insurgents, and take down Taliban firing positions in what was previously a no-go area for coalition forces.

Major Alastair Harbison from Ballyclare, Officer Commanding C Company, said: “Over the last two years, Shin Kalay, and nearby Kushal Kinlay, have gone from almost ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and ANSF (Afghan National Security Force) no-go areas to what you see now, where we are able to sit down with the locals in relative security.

“More than 150 children are now receiving education in a school that had been closed for over three years.

“It’s fantastic news and it’s an achievement that is testament to the ongoing development of the Afghan security forces.”

Meanwhile, another group of Afghan soldiers, along with troops from Canterbury-based 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, searched the village.

After the raid RIR Lieutenant Jonathon Green, Lieutenant Abdul Matin from the Afghan National Civil Order Police and Sergeant Muhammed Udin from the Afghan National Army carried out a joint patrol route through the populated areas.

“The ANSF just need the reassurance of our presence to give them the confidence to get to grips with their role,” said Lt Green.

“Once that happens, the effect is noticeable — they know the local culture and ways, and once they're off, it's hard to hold them back. They really are the future of the country and already they are so much more effective in dealing with insurgency.”

The Afghan and British forces also offered assistance with some community projects, including the clearance of irrigation ditches.

Major Greg Murphy added: “The highlight of this is that the governor's shura (parliament) was able to take place without any ISAF security presence at all. It was fantastic to be a part of this and see the Afghan police take ownership of their own security.

“I think the most important thing to take away from this operation is that when you go out on the ground, meeting the people of Afghanistan, you now see physical evidence that we are having a positive effect on the whole situation.”

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