Soldiers from the 1st Battalion, Irish Guards and the Household Cavalry are fighting to keep open a vital road in Afghanistan. Highway 1 runs through Helmand province and these soldiers are responsible for safeguarding 70 km of it. Working as a British Forces News reporter, I had exclusive access to the work they do.
It’s the ring road of Afghanistan, it covers over 2000km. Highway 1 starts in the East in Jalalabad and Kabul, then heads South to Kandahar, goes through Helmand Province on its way to Herat in the West, then goes up to the far North and Mazar e Sharif. Nearly half the population of Afghanistan lives within 50km of Highway 1.
It may look like an unremarkable single lane tarmac road, but it’s the most important trade route for the country and crucial to ISAF troops for the resupply of their patrol bases across the country.
The Taliban also rely on it to move around. Until recently this meant they didn’t target it directly; although settlements around it and convoys snaking down it weren’t quite so lucky.
Alongside the Household Cavalry, the 1st Battalion Irish Guards are the unit responsible for making sure the road is safe and keeps moving. They work with the Afghan National Army advising them on tactics and patrolling with them.
And the last couple of weeks have been busy. In the 24 hours we were there, their stretch of the Highway was hit by a suicide car bomber, three IED finds and a direct hit on a patrol.
The Guardsmen are based in the centre of Geresk where they live with their Afghan colleagues in what years ago used to be a Soviet Army R&R camp – swimming pool (albeit now empty) and all.
They’re acutely aware of the risks every time they go outside the gate into the bustling town and out onto to road teaming with convoys. But they also know that if they don’t keep those convoys safe and moving, the country’s economy will have little chance of getting back on track.