22 Jun. 2009
PR# 2009-445

3 SCOTS Launch Massive Air Assault into Taliban Stronghold

KABUL, Afghanistan - International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) soldiers have launched an assault one of the last Taliban strongholds in one of the largest air operations in modern times.

Twelve Chinook helicopters, supported by 13 other aircraft including Apache and Black Hawk helicopter gunships, a Spectre gunship, Harrier jets and unmanned drones, dropped more than 350 troops from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland, into Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, just before midnight on 19 June.

The aim of the operation, called Operation Panchai Palang, which means Panther’s Claw, was to secure a number of canal and river crossings in order to establish a permanent ISAF presence in the area, which has previously been a Taliban stronghold.

The troops were quickly followed by another company of soldiers from The Black Watch arriving by Viking armoured vehicle plus Royal Engineers and counter-Improvised Explosive Device (IED) teams who have spent the last two days building a number of check points on the main routes in and out of the area to stifle any movement by insurgents. In total more than 500 troops took part.

Over the last two days insurgents have launched a number of attacks against The Black Watch but each one has been repelled allowing the Troops to secure three main crossing points: the Lui Mandey Wadi crossing, the Nahr-e-Burgha canal and the Shamalan canal.

In addition, on 22 June, they also found 1.3 tonnes of poppy seed and a number of IED and anti-personnel mines before they could be laid.

Once completed, the check points will be manned initially by The Black Watch but within a few weeks they will be permanently be occupied by the Afghan National Police (ANP).

Lieutenant Colonel Stephen Cartwright, Commanding Officer of The Black Watch, said: “This has been a major air assault operation with a large number of helicopters by the both UK and US. The Black Watch met some resistance but we were able to establish a firm foothold in the area.”

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, spokesman for Task Force (TF) Helmand, said: “Operation Panchai Palang is a mission to clear and hold one of the few remaining Taleban strongholds. The end result will provide lasting security for the local population free from intimidation and violence by the insurgents."

“By doing so, we show the commitment of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA), supported by ISAF, to bring governance to local people, and give them the freedom and capacity to vote in the forthcoming presidential elections in August. Their lives will be measurably improved.”

“While securing the area the troops have come across 1.3 tonnes of poppy seed and many components of IEDs demonstrating the nexus between the insurgency and opium production which brings so much misery to the streets of the UK. They have also killed a number of insurgents who have attacked ISAF and ANSF troops.”

“This operation has been achieved in many ways due to the arrival of extra US troops into the south of Helmand. The increase has provided ISAF with a massive boost in capability which we believe will significantly change the balance in the province."

“The UK has routinely operated with the US in Helmand since spring 2007 when the Special Purpose Marine Air to Ground Task Force - Afghanistan (SPMAGTF-A) first arrived. The arrival of Marine Expeditionary Brigade – Afghanistan into southern and western Helmand is a continuation of that relationship.”

This is the latest of a number of operations in the last few months where UK and ISAF forces have taken and held ground in Helmand.

Operation Zafar, a week-long operation which began on 27 April, saw more than 200 Afghan Army and Police, supported by UK troops from 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment (Worcesters and Foresters) and 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, push the Taliban out of several villages around Basharan, near to the provincial capital of Helmand, Lashkar Gah. The Afghan Army cleared the enemy held areas and policemen secured the villages and reassured the local population.

By the end of the week, groups of UK stabilisation teams were conducting meetings with the local elders who have been under the shadow of the Taliban for some time, offering a range of ways to help the villagers, from refurbishing schools to improving healthcare provision.

Then in a four day operation starting on 19 May, Operation Zafar 2, Troops from The Black Watch secured an area, allowing time for a police check point to be built and manned for use by the Afghan Police on a main route into Lashkar Gah. By the end of the third day, the ANP had taken up position in the checkpoint.

Then, starting in the early hours of 29 May, troops from 2nd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, pushed the Taliban out of an enemy stronghold 6km to the south of Musa Qal’eh, around the village of Yatimchay. The local population has been allowed to return to their homes and re-establish farming in the area.

Notes to Editors:

The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, The Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), took over as the Regional Battle Group (South) on April 10. 3 SCOTS took over from 42 Commando Royal Marines as the battalion responsible for supporting a variety of operations across the whole of southern Afghanistan, not just those of the main UK Task Force in Helmand province.

The battalion will be based within Camp Roberts at Kandahar Airfield and will work directly to the Dutch-led divisional headquarters known as Regional Command (South), part of the NATO International Security Assistance Force.

Kandahar is home to the forces of seven nationalities within the ISAF coalition and contains a huge array of supporting equipment.

Contact Information ISAF Public Affairs Office
Tel: +93 (0)799 51 1155 - Mobile: 0093 (0) 799 55 8291 pressoffice@hq.isaf.nato.int - www.nato.int/isaf/