Tea helping fight against Taliban
Published 14/11/2011 | 13:36
For one group of frontline troops, it's not guns, planes or bombs that are winning the war in Afghanistan, but a simple cup of tea.
For members of Alpha (Grenadier) Company, The Black Watch, the 3rd Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, valuable information gathered from locals over a cup of "chai" - traditional Afghan tea - is helping eliminate the threat of insurgents.
The company is based at Patrol Base Kalang in Nad e-Ali - an area expected to be among the next districts to be handed to Afghan National Security Forces.
No date has been announced by Afghan President Hamid Karzai yet, but the next phase of transition is expected to come shortly.
While "contacts" with Taliban insurgents in Nad e-Ali were at around 70 a month when the Royal Irish Regiment were in the area in 2010/11, Alpha Company have had just four incidents of "significant activity" in their eight weeks at Kalang.
But while they comb the area for insurgents and IEDs, keeping ahead of the enemy is not about weapons or tactics, but mixing with the locals - most importantly the Afghan tradition of drinking chai together.
Patrols visit Afghan Local Police (ALP), locally recruited police commanded by a respected local elder; Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP), a nationally recruited professional police force; and Afghan National Army (ANA) soldiers at their local checkpoints. There they sit down for chai with local commanders, chatting and gaining information that can be formed into intelligence.
Corporal Barry "Smudge" Smith, 30, from St Monans in Fife, was last in Afghanistan in 2009, conducting strike operations from Kandahar. He has found himself in a very different role this tour - patrolling the area, talking with locals with the help of an interpreter, and gathering information from them.
"Whenever we go past they invite us in for chai, we sit and chat," he said. "The ALP are really pro-ISAF (International Security Assistance Force), they always tell us everything. We don't even have to ask. It's the simple things - sitting down with them and just talking, they start telling us things.
"Rather than me sitting down and firing questions at them we all sit down together, me and all the guys and them, and have chai and a chat - and that's good for my guys as well to see it happening."