Winning hearts and minds

The latest Afghan soldiers who have been trained to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from roads in Afghanistan are preparing to deploy to Helmand Province.''Eighty-one members of the Route Clearance Company (RCC) are nearing the end of their sixteen-week training programme at Camp Black Horse in Kabul.'''This training is very important,' said Second Lieutenant Abdul Wodoodzahid, one of the platoon commanders from the RCC. 'These lessons are very significant for us.'''NOTE TO DESKS: 'MoD release authorised handout images. 'All images remain crown copyright. 'Photo credit to read - Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC
The latest Afghan soldiers who have been trained to clear improvised explosive devices (IEDs) from roads in Afghanistan are preparing to deploy to Helmand Province.''Eighty-one members of the Route Clearance Company (RCC) are nearing the end of their sixteen-week training programme at Camp Black Horse in Kabul.'''This training is very important,' said Second Lieutenant Abdul Wodoodzahid, one of the platoon commanders from the RCC. 'These lessons are very significant for us.'''NOTE TO DESKS: 'MoD release authorised handout images. 'All images remain crown copyright. 'Photo credit to read - Sergeant Alison Baskerville RLC
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A FYLDE coast soldier is returning to his loved ones after a six-month tour in Afghanistan which showed a different aspect to the war.

After 10 years of bloody fighting in South Central Asia, the conflict has become synonymous with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) and tragic repatriation of British heroes through the Wiltshire town of Wooton Bassett.

But the experiences of Sgt Kevin Bond, 32, from Fleetwood, are of a different war to the one so often seen on television news channels.

Sgt Bond, a member of the Royal Electrical Mechanical Engineers (REME), based with 3 UK Divisional Support Regiment (DSR), in Bulford, Wiltshire, has spent the majority of his time in Afghanistan trying to portray British soldiers in a positive light to win hearts and minds.

Sgt Bond was originally sent to Afghanistan capital Kabul to provide support as a watch keeper, however, he quickly found himself working with CIMIC (Civil Military Cooperation).

He said: “I was supposed to work in the ops room, but I started to get involved with helping out the local people. I ended up doing both roles, watch keeper and going out and about with the lads on patrol to get to know the local people.”

“A lot of the people out here don’t have much, so for us to come here and help them is really good. It shows that we’re not just here to fight people, we’re here to try to improve life for the local population.”

Instead of patrolling with a rifle, Sgt Bond became accustomed to carrying a shovel and spade to begin and develop projects to improve schools and essential facilities such as wells.

He moved out of his post in Camp Souter, Kabul, where he was tasked with overseeing the security of the camp, and into the community to form relationships with the people who needed the support of the army to re-build their lives after years under the rule of the Taliban.

Sgt Bond added: “I’ve had quite a good tour. You do different things. It’s been very diverse, and you get to meet the local people.

“It’s good to speak to them, and to see the smiles on the kids’ faces when they get some new stuff they haven’t had before.”

Blackpool Council’s Coun Jim Houldsworth, an ex-major in the Royal Marines, says the job of working with the people of Afghanistan is essential if British Forces are going to be successful.

He told The Gazette: “This is probably more important than fighting the Taliban. If you can win the hearts and minds, the Taliban will see their error and relinquish their weapons and come over to the Government’s side. What we tend to forget is there are a lot of human stories out there with people trying to live ordinary, every-day lives, which is what we would all like to do.

“The people in the villages have been under pressure from both sides, with the Taliban threatening them and the Government not paying their wages on time, which can sometimes happen.

“But, on the whole, things are improving with people contributing to the local infrastructure and they are starting to get a better life because of the democratic government that has been elected over there.”

Qabel Bai school, a short distance away from Camp Souter, is an example of work by the soldiers. Their work put foundations in place to provide brighter prospects for the children attending the school as they were able to build new classrooms and facilities, allowing future generations to study there.

As well as construction work, the soldiers also do a regular food and supplies drop from a nearby Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoint.

Sgt Bond added: “We’ve given them some rice, oil and blankets, along with some gifts.”

“It makes a massive difference, because they’ve not got a great deal of money themselves. And it certainly makes a difference for us as well, when we’re out patrolling, interacting with them.”

“I’ve seen a lot of change, especially with the village elders. They’ve become more friendly towards us, and we’ve enjoyed better relations with people outside the camp walls.”

Sgt Bond will return home to his wife, Shayna and says although he has had a rewarding tour of duty he has missed home. He plans to stay in the army and one day return to Afghanistan to continue the work he started.