A battalion of Belfast-based soldiers are regularly running a deadly gauntlet over hostile terrain to deliver vital supplies to British Army outposts in southern Afghanistan.
At the start of their six-month tour of duty, the men and women of 10 Close Support Squadron (10 CS Sqn), 19 Combat Service Support (CSS) Battalion, Royal Logistic Corps, have already made their mark by mounting five large, armed convoys from Camp Bastion to outlying bases, including one to the town of Sangin, in the Helmand River Valley; a 250km round trip, which took three exhausting days.
In April 2009, the soldiers of 10 CS Sqn, based at Kinnegar Logistic Base near Holywood in Northern Ireland, along with troops from 4 CS Sqn and 31 CS Sqn (from Abingdon), as well as TA soldiers from 152 (Ulster) Transport Regiment (Volunteers) based in Palace Barracks, Holywood, took over from 3 Commando Logistic Battalion. Together they form the Combat Support Logistic Regiment of 19 Light Brigade, providing the vital supply function in the Helmand region.
Combat Logistic Patrols (CLPs), as the convoys are called, ensure that the soldiers who man the Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) across Helmand province are fully supported with essential kit and equipment.
Private Philip ‘Phil’ Maloney drives one of 19 CSS’s Oshkosh Close Support tankers: “On the CLPs we move upwards of 500 tonnes of food, water, fuel, ammunition, building materials and engineering supplies out to the Forward Operating Bases across Helmand province, as well as the all-important post sent from home,” he said.
CLPs are the heaviest armed formations that regularly cross Helmand province’s rough terrain. They typically consist of 70 plus vehicles, mostly eight-wheeled DROPS (demountable rack offload and pickup system) vehicles – capable of carrying loads of up to 15 tonnes and loading and unloading them in seconds – and new, up-armoured MAN SV (support vehicles) trucks. Both vehicles are protected by ‘top-cover’ sentries equipped with the rapid-firing GPMGs (general purpose machine guns).
These huge operations are supported by a ‘force protection’ infantry platoon, operating Mastiff armoured vehicles and WMIK (Weapons Mounted Installation Kit) Land Rovers mounted with .50 calibre heavy machine guns (provided by soldiers from AVA Platoon, C Company, 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment); mechanics and recovery vehicles of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME); medics from the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC); Apache attack helicopters of the Army Air Corps; and ‘fast air’ jets of the Royal Air Force.
Corporal Craig ‘Robbo’ Robinson commands the lead Mastiff patrol vehicle of the convoy: “We’re in charge of route choosing and proving. We decide where the convoy goes and ensure that it’s free of mines and IEDs [improvised explosive devices] laid by insurgents.
“As Force Protection Platoon we have enormous firepower. And with all the other assets in support, the CLP is a formidable fighting force.
“We spread our vehicles amongst the convoy to provide protection against any insurgent small arms fire and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] attack. We also choose routes where the insurgents are less likely to lay IEDs. It often means taking the roughest one.”
Major Rob Tasker, Officer Commanding 10 CS Sqn, explained the wider roles of the CLPs: “The logistics patrols are so big and so well-armed that they achieve more than a traditional convoy. They can pick up intelligence about enemy forces and dominate the battlefield, denying the enemy freedom of movement.
“The terrain imposes a huge strain on our crews and their vehicles, but we’re fortunate in having extremely capable men and women.”
19 CSS are due to completely replace their current vehicle fleet, made up of Leyland and Foden DROPS vehicles that are nearing the end of their military service. The trucks will be replaced by a fleet of up-armoured MAN SVs. Designed to cope with the demands of the challenging operational theatre in Afghanistan, the new vehicles have increased all-terrain mobility, enhanced armour and a climate-controlled driving compartment.
19 CSS will remain in Helmand province until September 2009, when they will be relieved by the soldiers of 10 The Queen’s Own Gurkha Logistic Regiment.