While flying home for my mothers funeral I got chatting to a man from 3 Para about Afghanistan. This was an interesting conversation with a chap who had seen action there and was in every respect the type of man you wished to have on your side. The Para's have a reputation for being somewhat 'rough' but this did not come across with this man. He was an excellent representative for his regiment and I confess I was impressed. This image was given further evidence when reading the book he had recommended, '3 Para,' the story of their adventure in Afghanistan. He is pictured here,
"Loud and lovable,
Sergeant Dan Jarvie was
one of the most popular men in 3 Para."
That I can believe!
The Para's intention was to support the 'reconstruction' of damaged Afghanistan in the Helmand Province. Once there however political games from high above led to there aim being distorted and they became becalmed in several locations 'holding the fort' instead of moving through the land in the manner they were trained for. This was because once in position the Taliban then chose to attack, at great cost, these establishments. The constructive side of the operation soon became secondary and disappeared altogether by the time of their return to Colchester. This it must be said was not the fault of 3 Para!
In Sangin and Musa Qaleh, in Now Zad and at the Kajaki Dam they met stiff resistance with determination and skill. They suffered much. The weather was hot and they were wearing full kit. Mines planted during the Russian occupation caused much damage, RPG's and sniper fire, attacks on compounds and vehicles bringing supplies were costly. 3 Para endured them all and fought on, not quite exhausted, until relieved.
This well illustrated book tells the story of the tour of duty, the clashes with the Taliban, the attempt to make friends with the locals, who were caught between the Taliban and an army that may well be gone tomorrow, and the power struggles above. The Afghan president and his governor, the American wish to blast the Taliban out, and the British attempt at 'hearts and minds' which the 'John Wayne' educated U.S. forces never appear to understand. The impression is given of a country with far to many divisions, too much corruption, a Taliban imposing from without their religious view, the western force doing likewise and a government more interested in position and making a fast buck. While the Taliban can never again reconquer the nation they can never be removed either. The people are of no importance in all this!
There is no easy answer, and too few wish any answer at all!
The battle group of which 3 Para were the leading edge, consisted of a company from the Royal Gurkha Rifles, a detachment from the Royal Irish Regiment, plus Scimitar and Spartans vehicles from the household Cavalry to add an armoured section with the 7th Royal Horse Artillery adding their 105m guns. Engineers, medical, and air transport combined to make a significant and powerful force. By the end of the tour this force had suffered fifteen deaths, including an interpreter, and almost fifty serious wounds. The war situation moves on, the wounds remain for life. On top of this there are the 'post traumatic stress' problems that few speak about but manage to send hundreds, or is it thousands, of ex-servicemen to jail!
There were of course medals, some posthumous. Corporal Bryan James Budd of 3 Para, noticed his men had been injured during a fight in a field of tall maize. To protect them while medical aid arrived and tended these serious injuries, he took off in the direction of the enemy fire, firing in their direction to draw the enemy to himself. He disappeared! When found later he was lying dead alongside two Taliban. He was awarded the Victoria Cross!
Corporal Mark William Wright, also of 3 Para, was also killed in action. He was awarded the George Cross. Many more received awards or were mentioned in dispatches.
Patrick Bishops book gave a very good understanding of the complexity of the Afghan problem, far better than any news report could do. In spite of the changes in the situation, and there have been many, the danger for the Para's does not go away. Insufficient equipment, a lack of support, the confused ideals behind the action and the nagging question, "What are we doing here?" Let's face it, nobody really knows what the purpose is. This war was another of 'Dubyah' Bush's adventures, and it is doubtful if he ever found out where Afghanistan is! Obama wants to get out but has no idea how to do this, and Gordon Brown is reluctant to send the troops asked for by the army. The 'Vietnam' thought lurks in the background. Nobody has ever conquered this troublesome people. The fear of Islamic terrorism, real enough in itself, may not be faced in this area, especially if the real foe is in Pakistan! What will happen to this sad land? There is no answer to that at this time.
3 Para have been back once already, in 2008, and will return again next year. While they will do their job well I hope there are clear objectives marked out for them, achievable objectives at that! I do not wish to see Dan Jarvie, and his tremendously powerful handshake, lost for no good reason. These men deserve better for the determined, effective, service they provide for this nation.