The six-month mission of British forces – led by Royal Marines of 3 Commando Brigade – to bring stability and security to Helmand during the spring and summer of 2011 has been singled out for once again cementing the bond between the UK and US.
The green berets worked side by side with their American counterparts in Task Force Leatherneck during Operation Herrick 14 – co-operation deemed worthy of an award by senior officers on both sides of the Atlantic.
Hearts and minds… A Royal Marine of Yankee Company, 45 Commando, chats with local youngsters during a patrol outside Patrol Base Shamal Storrai. Picture: LA(Phot) Andy Laidlaw, 45 Cdo
ROYAL Marines have been singled out for their ‘historically significant’ mission in Afghanistan 12 months ago – a mission which played a key role in determining the future of Helmand province and cemented strong bonds with Britain and the USA.
For six months over the spring and summer of 2011, 3 Commando Brigade headed Operation Herrick 14, the British effort in the troubled country.
The brigade and its supporting units in Task Force Helmand – in total 6,555 men and drawn from all three arms of the British military – worked side-by-side with its US Marine Corps counterparts of Task Force Leatherneck and ultimately came under the Americans’ II Marine Expeditionary Force.
And it is that effort alongside our US cousins which has earned the brigade, based at RM Stonehouse in Plymouth, recognition from senior officers on both side of the Atlantic.
A member of the Brigade Reconnaissance Force consults his map during Operation Pot Khanger, a sweep by 30 Commando last summer. Picture: LA(Phot) Hamish Burke, 3 Cdo Bde
The British-American Forces Dining Club has presented the brigade with its Historical Significance Award – given to outstanding British and American units which have contributed to the success of the US-UK alliance – and to set an example for future so that other military commanders can follow their lead.
The club traces its origins back to 1942 and the early stages of planning for the invasion of France when the two Allied powers found their different backgrounds, training, cultures and traditions led to tension; to break down the barriers, regular dinners involving senior commanders on both sides were suggested, hence the club’s unusual title.
Seventy years on and the club continues to promote understanding and co-operation between the Armed Forces of the two nations – not least through the recently-instituted Historical Significance Award.
Juliet Company, 42 Commando, move through a wheat field between compounds on a patrol of Helmand in May 2011. Picture: LA(Phot) Dave Hillhouse, 42 Cdo
The joint effort by the two task forces during the six-month tour of duty in Helmand led to a 45 per cent reduction in central Helmand compared with the previous year, and saw attacks in the Nad-e Ali district fall more than fourfold.
Such successes were not without a price. The Americans lost 47 personnel, the British 19, with many more wounded as they strove to improve the lives of ordinary Afghans – and with that the security situation; the number of troops, police and other forces on the ground mushroom twentyfold to 40,000 Afghan and Coalition personnel.
More than 91 Britons were singled out for gallantry awards, commendations and recognition for their service – although, as the citation from the club states, the mission demanded “the resolve and emotional investment of every marine, soldier, sailor and airman”.
All of this was played out under the “watchful eye of the world’s media” where “every action, conversation, project and shura – meeting with village elders – played a vital role”.
45 Commando head out on Jackal armoured vehicles on a dusk patrol. Picture: LA(Phot) Andy Laidlaw, 45 Cdo
As well as the difference to the people of Helmand, the joint mission by the Royal Marines and US once again affirmed the much celebrated ‘special relationship’ between Britain and the USA. The club closes its citation for 3 Commando Brigade with the heartening words: “Our UK-US bond remains as robust and resolute as ever – the strongest possible foundation for the future.”
Maj Gen Ed Davis, who led 3 Commando Brigade throughout its demanding tour-of-duty and has since been promoted Commandant General Royal Marines, said of the recognition:
“Throughout a hard-fought summer in Helmand, the brave and selfless men and women of Operation Herrick 14 achieved extraordinary feats day in, day out.
“Without the ‘power of combinations’ the Task Force enjoyed with II Marine Expeditionary Force such feats would have been a much rarer occurrence. A ‘semper fidelis’ mindset matters when in harm’s way.”