Afghan IED teams 'self-sufficient'
Afghan soldiers responsible for finding and clearing bombs in Helmand province are now "self-sufficient", a British colonel said.
Lieutenant Colonel Adam Mcrae is in charge of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD), made up of troops from 15 different regiments operating out of Camp Bastion.
The unit has traditionally led the way in Helmand at clearing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), one of the key threats to troops and civilians.
Lt Col Mcrae said that as Nato forces prepare to cease combat operations by the end of 2014, EOD teams in the province were increasingly allowing the Afghan National Army (ANA) to take control.
While his comments represent a leap forward in the planned handover, Major General Edward Smyth-Osbourne, attached to the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said such progress needed to be replicated across the country.
"If that is the situation in Helmand, it is good news. It is not yet true across Afghanistan," he said. "There has certainly been progress, but the Afghan National Security Forces are still suffering too many casualties, and that is an issue of equipment as well as training."
Lt Col Mcrae said that many ANA operators had now completed more than 500 IED tasks - far more than their British counterparts. As a result the British workload has decreased dramatically. While the Army does not comment on incident numbers, a British EOD team is likely to complete the same number of tasks in the current tour as a single operator would have in previous deployments.
While the focus in recent years has been on Britons training Afghans, the ANA is now running its own training. "We are very much taking a back seat and our role is about gentle mentoring and fine tuning," he said. "I would say they are entirely self-sufficient. Their progress is making our role redundant, and we are expecting a very quiet tour - but that is what success looks like."
It is broadly accepted that the ANA is up to the task when it comes to frontline fighting. But further support is needed to improve command structures and in specialist roles.
Lt Col Mcrae said: "The ANA have always been very keen and very brave, but this is about creating a force which can operate entirely on its own. When it comes to EOD, they are taking the lead in detecting and removing devices and are conducting their own training. Now when a job comes in we're not asking ourselves: 'Can the Afghans handle this?' but: 'Is there any reason why they shouldn't?'. Generally the only reason we will do it ourselves now is because we happen to be closest to the location."