The Royal Irish Regiment in Afghanistan – 2008

Lt Col E B M Freely in discussion with senior Afghan commanders.
Lt Col E B M Freely, commanding 1 R IRISH Battle Group, in discussion with senior Afghan commanders including, on the right, Brigadier General Mohayadin, the commander of the Afghan National Army 3/205 Brigade which R IRISH were responsible for mentoring.

Operation HERRICK 8

On 25 March 2008, the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, reinforced by a company from the 2nd Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment, relieved the 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment in Afghanistan.

The 1 R IRISH Battlegroup had three roles:

1) Providing operational and training support to the Helmand Brigade of the Afghan National Army (ANA).

2) Detaching C (Ranger) Company to 2 PARA Battlegroup in Sangin District.

3) Deploying Imjin Company Group to firstly, provide Force Protection for the Camp Bastion area of operations, secondly, protect the Tactical Landing Zone and lastly, to provide the Immediate Response Team. This company group was based on 2 R IRISH personnel reinforced by A Company 1 R IRISH.

The role allocated to 1 R IRISH by the Commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade meant that the Battalion would be split into relatively small groups in a number of locations across Helmand Province from where they would mentor and support Afghan forces. In many instances this meant that junior non-commissioned officers and even Rangers found themselves commanding units of Afghan soldiers in combat. Working closely with the Afghan National Army demanded the very highest levels of courage and discipline. The R IRISH Battlegroup soldiers on occasion found themselves in confrontation with their Afghan allies and on at least one occasion this came very close to deteriorating into a shooting engagement over prisoner handling.

In the main however, the Rangers of the Royal Irish Regiment, with their innate ability to both identify and get along with almost everyone, were hugely respected by their Afghan counterparts. A platoon commander recalls how a local elder with former Taliban links, physically tried to prevent him from leaving when the time came for the Battalion to leave.

The supreme courage of the R IRISH in one of the most difficult tasks any unit can undertake in Afghanistan was recognised in the Operational Honours and Awards List of 6 March 2009. Eighteen members of the Regiment received awards including three Conspicuous Gallantry Crosses and three Military Crosses.