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OMLT by Capt S Dixon


It was strange to jump out of the Sea King into the dusty Forward Operating Base Keenan. Eighteen months ago, most of my soldiers and had been involved in the Battlegroup Operation that had cleared the area of TB, setting the conditions for its creation. It was hardly recognisable; walls of HESCO and rows of ISO containers and tents had transformed the lonely mud walls into the domineering base that stood in its place. One hundred and thirty people now operated out of it from a variety of nationalities - Danish, British, Nepalese and the grouping that was to be the focus of my tour, the thirty five Afghan soldiers of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).


My job as an Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) commander, as the acronym suggests, was to work very much alongside the ANA, both in camp and on the ground, in order to maximise the expertise of the ANA by coupling it with that of ISAF forces. It was an interesting and new dynamic for my soldiers and me and, prior to arriving and meeting our ANA counterparts, a slightly woolly one too. A few horror stories had floated through our pre-deployment training and the expectation of the ANA, before arriving, was, I’m ashamed to admit, not entirely positive.


My ANA counterpart at FOB Keenan,


Capt Najibullah, was an intelligent, eloquent man and, after years of fighting as a member of the Mujahideen, a highly competent commander, respected by his men and effective in their coordination.


The first few patrols were an eye opener: the threat of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) in our Area of Operations (AO) was such that everywhere we moved had to be swept by a metal detector, a shift in mind set from the conventional tactics we were trained in and familiar with. The Taliban in the area operate a stone’s throw from the FOB, in all directions, and their influence is apparent. No sooner have you left the safety of the camp walls than radio reports of the enemy setting ambushes and readying their heavy weapons are intercepted and fed to us. Needless to say, interaction with the enemy was frequent; in the first three weeks we captured two members of the Taliban, killed a third, weapons and mortar bombs were found in compound searches and LCpl Sissons found an IED that targeted, and would have otherwise killed, members of my team.


Working with the ANA is a refreshing shift from the role we carried out on Op Herrick 6. The ANA is a fast moving reactive force, ruthless in their encounters with the Taliban and yet very in tune with the locals


and with the area in which they operate, keen to provide security to their people and very much acting as the face of the patrol. The British component of the pairing is more deliberate, equipped far more heavily (each man carrying half his body weight on every patrol) in order to deliver and coordinate battle-winning offensive action to support the ANA and, where necessary, provide direction and advice upon the wide variety of situations the patrol may encounter.


My team and I have now been extracted from Keenan and we are preparing to move to Lashkar Gah where a large number of ANA operate without OMLT team assistance. We are establishing a new Patrol Base in which one hundred ANA soldiers and my team of eight British soldiers will live and operate from. The threat in Lashkar Gah is a shift from the rural environment of the Green Zone and comes in the form of suicide bombers and close quarter weapons fire. This shift will clearly involve a change in tack in the methods with which we formerly patrolled and operated but we will continue to be underpinned by the same good humour, determination and shared adversity that binds the OMLT and the ANA.


OMLT by LCpl Luke Sisson, a Section 2ic


My experience in Forward Operating Base (FOB) Keenan has been very interesting and an eye opener. Upon arriving in Keenan, everything seemed different from my last tour, both the environment and the job: we were now being used in the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) rôle working alongside the Afghan National Army (ANA). The ANA is very good to work with and it surprised me as I had heard that they were bad, but they were actually a very switched on bunch of soldiers and also very funny. There was one very small ANA soldier called “Commando” who was everyone’s favourite because, on patrols, he would carry a radio with an antenna more than twice the size of him.


The ANA commander was an interesting character; he was a very good leader for his troops and he had a very good rapport with the locals in the area. Also, when he worked with Capt Dixon, he would listen


54 October 2009


to what he wanted to do and usually do it but, sometimes, he would suggest something different and we would go with that. On one patrol I found an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which we had to cordon for six hours before being told that the disposal team could not come out to us. This resulted in the ANA Commander, along with two others, digging it up and carrying it back to FOB Keenan! When it came to IEDs, he may have been very courageous but it could be something that perhaps he should have listened to the OMLT about and it was something that we then gave additional mentoring on.


While in Keenan, we couldn’t safely patrol for more than 800 meters from the FOB before enemy action became obvious and, moving much further away, would result in contact. Similarly, the threat from IEDs was so high in our area that Op Barma had to be conducted around the whole of the patrol. Needless to say, the threat kept


everyone on their toes. When we patrolled with the ANA they were very good; we worked with two Sections (each consisting of 8-10 men) of ANA, with our team making up a third section that moved to the rear or off to one of the flanks. This regularly involved us moving in and out of muddy poppy fields and water-filled ditches courtesy of Capt Dixon. The ANA had a very good understanding of the ground which, in turn, helped us to move around. In all, the patrols we conducted were very progressive and positive and we achieved a lot in our three weeks there; in addition to the IED find, we managed to kill one Taliban and capture two more and find weapons and ammunition.


We are now moving to work with a new group of ANA in Lashkar Gah and building a new Patrol Base (PB); this, I hope, will be as good if not better than our previous tasking.


The Mercian Eagle


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