16 Air Assault Brigade formally took over as the lead formation of Task Force Helmand from 4th Mechanized Brigade on Sunday 10 October 2010. They were in theatre until April 2011.
To mark the change, which signified the start of Operation HERRICK 13, a 'friendship feast' was held at the headquarters of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Lashkar Gah, which was attended by Afghan and British dignitaries.
The event was attended by the Governor of Helmand province, Gulab Mangal, the Deputy Commander of 3/215 Brigade of the Afghan National Army, Colonel Amin Jhan, and the Helmand Chief of Police.
A number of commanders from ISAF headquarters, Regional Command (South), Regional Command (South West) and the American-led Task Force Leatherneck were also in attendance.
After enjoying a locally-produced Afghan meal together, gifts were exchanged and speeches made emphasising the very close relationships and friendships that have developed between 4th Mechanized Brigade, the Afghan institutions they have been partnering and the Afghan authorities.
On Sunday 14 November 2010, HRH Prince William flew into Camp Bastion and spoke with members of 16 Air Assault Brigade whilst attending the Remembrance Service.
On 12 December 2010, after completing deployment training at Camp Bastion, operations into the settlement of Tor Ghai in Nahr-e Saraj district, were undertaken. Led by 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (2 PARA), with support from troops from 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment (3 PARA), and The Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, 5th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (5 SCOTS).
After advancing on foot through ice cold irrigation ditches, across undulating terrain and over 10ft high compound walls through the night, carrying kit weighing around 50kg, the troops were ready in position before first light. As the sun rose and the visibility from a sandstorm cleared, the advance into Tor Ghai commenced. The advance was led on the ground by Commanding Officer 2 PARA, Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Harrison MBE.
Approaching the village from the west, B Company 5 SCOTS were the first to come under insurgent small arms fire as they established a presence in the western outskirts of the village to block any exit routes.
As E Company and the Patrols Platoon advanced to the north and north-east of the village, they too were ‘contacted’ by insurgent rounds. For around 30 minutes, all sub-units involved in the operation were engaged by insurgents. But – significantly – as it became clear that the Afghan National Army was arriving in large numbers, along with further British support, the fight was not sustained and the insurgents retreated.
As soon as the village was secured, the soldiers engaged in a shura (traditional Afghan meeting) with the influential elders of the village. During this time, the local nationals were handed Afghanistan flags by the Afghan National Army and the following message was broadcast by loudspeaker:
“The Afghan National Army and ISAF are here to stay, so we can provide security for the development that is coming to your village. You can come out now. This is a new time in your lives, please stay and support your village elders who are working to bring you the many benefits of governance.”
16 Air Assault Brigade units worked towards the objective of beginning the handover of security responsibilities to Afghan forces during 2011. They achieved this through strong tactics, initiative and persistence in operations in areas including, amongst others, Nad-e-Ali, Nahr-e-Saraj, Showal Bazaar and Char Coucha, restoring confidence and security. The Afghan Army, for the first time, were also able to plan and lead their own operations due to the training provided and improving situation.
In a short ceremony at the headquarters of Task Force Helmand in Lashkar Gah, 10 April 2011, Brigadier James Chiswell MC, Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade formally handed over to Brigadier Ed Davis OBE, Commander of 3 Commando Brigade.
Brigadier Chiswell said it has been a significant tour:
“We have continued to strengthen relations with our Afghan partners in the Army, Police and Helmand provincial government. This has enabled us, alongside our ISAF coalition partners, to build up their capacity to provide security and protect the local people from the insurgents.
“Alongside the Provincial Reconstruction Team, we have continued to stabilise insecure areas and the men and women of 16 Air Assault Brigade – some of who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and their families can be proud of the immense contribution they have made to improve the lives of the Afghan people.”