09 September 2008
Correction and update: In the dispatch “Where Eagles Dare,” I wrote that General Dan McNeill was the overall commander in Afghanistan. This is incorrect: General Dan McNeill was the previous Commanding General but has since rotated out. I was originally told by a military officer that General McNeill had ordered the mission, but was told today that General David McKiernan, now the CG, gave final approval. In any case, it was a tremendous success.
Also, I reported that there were no fatalities. Last night, I received the sad news that a Canadian soldier was killed by an IED during the trip back from the dam. The Canadian soldier died on an extremely important mission.
Please read the official British account of the mission:
ISAF TROOPS RETURN TO BASE TO CELEBRATE THEIR SUCCESFUL MISSION TO DELIVER TURBINE TO KAJAKI
The last of the ISAF troops guarding the convoy on its return from Kajaki have finally rolled back into base to mark the end of Operation OQAB TSUKA. The majority of British forces have returned to bases around Helmand already, including the British force protection convoy that returned on camp Bastion on Saturday, but the rest of the ISAF forces finally rolled through the gates of Kandahar on the evening of the 8th September. The mission has been a resounding success and a feat of military planning and ingenuity, as well as international co-operation. Only now all ISAF’s forces have been recovered from the operation can its full details be revealed.
Nearly 4,000 ISAF troops from the UK, US, Canada, Denmark, Australia and the Afghan National Army were involved in the 360km round trip operation to deliver a hydro-electric turbine from Kandahar Airfield to the Kajaki dam in the north of Helmand province. The mission was kept a tightly guarded secret, with a media blackout in place, to prevent the Taliban gaining any intelligence on the operation which could endanger the lives of the troops involved.
The convoy took 6 days to get to Kajaki and 6 days for all its elements to get back but ISAF’s Forces were on the ground well before the convoy had even finished loading its precious, 200 tonne, cargo. US and Canadian troops had secured the first half of the journey from Kandahar Airfield along Highway 1. The Taliban expected it to take Route 611, which turns off of Highway 1 and runs all the way to the Kajaki dam. However, after turning off early into a secret rendezvous location a British force protection convoy from Camp Bastion took over responsibility for the convoy and guided it along route “Harriet”, a Top Secret route discovered by the British Forces. A deception plan was hatched and whilst the turbine convoy travelled cross-desert towards the remote “Ghorak pass”, British, Danish and Afghan troops secured parts of route 611, seemingly to prepare for receiving the convoy. The Taliban fell for the deception and by the time the turbine convoy emerged from the Ghorak pass, only a few kilometres from its destination, the Taliban had been unable to organise any real resistance.
When the convoy reached the end of route Harriet it rejoined route 611. The final hurdle was the transit through “Kajaki Sofla”, a village near the dam, which had been infiltrated by the Taliban and where they were sure to try and mount their strongest attack. It was the responsibility of British and Afghan troops to secure the Sofla. The Afghan National Army’s 3/205 ‘Hero’ Brigade, Based in Helmand, was supported by British mentoring teams as they fought to secure the village and then engage with the locals in ‘Shuras’ to reassure them and gain support for the convoy’s passage.
The convoy arrived at the dam in the early hours of Tuesday the 2nd of September, with its cargo intact. Work to unload the convoy carried on throughout the night and it left the same day to return using the same route. Sadly, one British soldier was injured at Kajaki when he was run over by a vehicle and one Canadian soldier lost his life as the convoy was making its way back down route Harriet when his vehicle was struck by an IED. The convoy and all force protection elements finally returned to their starting points at Camp Bastion and Kandahar Airfield today, Saturday 6th of September.
Governor Gulab Mangal was at Camp Bastion to show his appreciation of the efforts of all ISAF Forces and the Afghan National Army for their roles in supporting the delivery of the turbine to the dam: “Your real achievements will be spoken of for some time and that admiration of your accomplishment is felt by all the people of Helmand. I want to say a big ‘Thank you’ to the British embassy in Kabul, the provincial reconstruction team Troops and the British people”.
Lt Col Rufus McNeil, CO 13 Air Assault Logistics Support Regiment, Royal Logistic Corps, was in charge of the convoy transporting the turbine. He said: “Every one of the soldiers did fantastically well. There were many times when we ran for 24 hours without a break so the demands on the soldiers were considerable. I have been hugely impressed with how resilient, brave and capable some of our really young soldiers are, when we consider the demands that was placed on them, the pressures and the enemy contacts. The threat the whole way through, the physical degradation of the ground and the heat opposed on them – they came through absolutely 100%”
With the delivery of the turbine complete, work can begin on its installation and the much larger programme of the rejuvenation of the electrical distribution network needed to pass the extra power to areas of Sangin, Musa Qaleh, Kandahar and the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah. The new turbine is capable of producing 18.5MW of economically viable, renewable energy, which will be in addition to the dam’s current 16.5MW output. The additional electricity it will eventually provide will light up classrooms, allowing Afghans across southern Afghanistan learn to read and write in evening classes; Farmers to store their produce in chilled storage, allowing greater export opportunities for the booming wheat markets; and clinics that will be able to offer improved health services.
George Wilder of the Lewis-Berger Group, subcontractors of USAID who fund the Kajaki dam project, is based at the dam and will oversee that work: “There’s still a lot to do, but I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It’s a great day for Afghanistan and it feels like my birthday”.
British Forces Spokesman, Lt Col David Reynolds, said: “The mission was a multi-national success, being USAID funded and coalition-military delivered. It was a project which the Afghans will benefit from, and ultimately, we will all benefit from. It demonstrated that the strategic intent of ISAF and the multi-national force to deliver reconstruction and development is making progress in southern Afghanistan”
Notes to editors:
1. New imagery and unseen footage of the convoy is available from www.defencenewsimagery.mod.uk under latest packages entitled “Op Tsuka”.
2. For more information contact the Helmand Press Information Centre on 0093 0798167812.
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