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Winning the Information Battle in Helmand

Members of the UKLF CSG Brigade Reconnaissance Force patrol in Jackal vehicles during a counter-IED operation in southern Helmand province
Members of the UKLF CSG Brigade Reconnaissance Force patrol in Jackal vehicles in southern Helmand province

A unique unit of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines who have spent the last six months in Helmand with the role of winning the information battle have begun returning home.

The United Kingdom Landing Force Command Support Group (UKLF CSG) deployed to Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 9 in September and October 2008. As they deployed their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Andrew J McInerney took under command, elements from across the other Armed Forces, Afghan forces and indeed other nations and the unit became the Information Exploitation (IX) Group. Lt Col McInerney RM explained their role:

"We gather information from any source we can, and analyse it to get an accurate and balanced understanding. We then use this intelligence to target the enemy, to enable planning and decision making, to conduct Information Operations, all the time working closely with our civilian partners from the Government of Afghanistan. As well as targeting the enemy we also work to deceive them, and defeat their efforts against us."

Members of the Unit were involved in every operation and worked in every major location across Helmand. Many spent more than half the six months out of their base, on patrol.

Within the unit there are specialists in reconnaissance, electronic warfare, intelligence, manned and unmanned aerial surveillance, information and psychological operations, communications, vehicle mechanics, clerical work, catering and a great array of other supporting roles.

The IX Group encompasses all the elements required to deliver the five effects of Find, Understand, Influence, Exploit and Enable. In very rough terms this translates as locate the enemy, understand what he is about within the complex tribal / feudal culture and enable the Task Force to take action against him, while seeking to influence the opinions and subsequent actions of the local populace. It comprises the following:

Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF) and Afghan Territorial Force (ATF)

The BRF is an integral asset of UKLF CSG, and the ATF is a collaboration between UK and Afghan personnel that seeks to maximise the impact of the newly formed indigenous security forces. Working alongside ATF provided the troops with local insight. Working with some 14 different organisations, there have been elements deployed on the ground for over 100 days during the last six months and the energy and flexibility of the reconnaissance troops was shown in the nine different major operations that BRF have been involved in over the tour.

Just prior to Christmas, and again recently, they were involved in independent initiatives in the areas of Nad-e-Ali and Marjah which have done much to facilitate the increasing security within Lashkar Gah, Helmand's provincial capital. These areas are used as safe havens for the Taliban leadership and provide substantial levels of income to the enemy through poppy cultivation. In addition, BRF has protected logistic patrols and successful counter-narcotic operations have also seen them capture over 10 tonnes of poppy seed, 5 tonnes of hashish and 80kg of wet opium.

Y Squadron
Also deployed on the ground, in the shape of Y Squadron, were the unit's frontline in Electronic Warfare, operating a variety of latest generation technology sensors and to exploit the Taliban's communication systems.

Unmanned Drones
These aircraft have maintained a near constant patrol across all corners of the Province and have provided thousands of hours of surveillance.

The Unit's Intelligence section takes the lead on developing the masses of accumulated information and formulating a finished product that can be pushed forward to the Command and lay foundations for the planning and execution of its operations.

Influence and Information Operations
These teams use information to influence a series of target audiences – much like a civilian marketing organisation they aim to change people's perceptions and therefore behaviour. Within Afghanistan there is little in the way of structured media so ISAF forces have established radio stations and distributed wind up and solar powered radios. These radio stations are hugely popular with the Afghans, providing music, news and education to a largely illiterate population. Leaflet drops have also sought to bring the message of security and development to the populace.

Lt Col McInerney continued:

"Our return to Helmand saw some very different challenges to those we faced on HERRICK 5, and I am proud to say that the Unit again delivered an outstanding performance. As part of an enduring UK contribution to ISAF, returning to the conflict torn south of Afghanistan, 3 Commando Brigade had some significant success during our (relatively) short tenure. However this success carried a high price, and our homecoming celebrations are mixed with remembrance and consideration of those killed and injured.

"What should be clear to anyone is that there are no quick fixes to the problems that the International Forces and President Karzai's Government face. Our work here has had a terrible cost – from the men under my command there have been five killed and nine seriously injured - but a stable Afghanistan is in the direct interest of the UK and the work that this and future units are undertaking is fundamental to the long term achievement of that aim.

"We are all looking forward to returning to our loved ones whose amazing support has sustained us through our recent absence. The support from families, and from the wider UK population has been incredible, we really could not have done it without them.

"So many people have sent letters and gifts to the troops; anything from a letter to a small parcel with shower gel and a packet of sweets is great for morale. Along with our superb team back in Plymouth, which has kept the home base running and dealt with the returning casualties, I have been delighted to see that the families have also supported each other through the testing times of our deployment.

"Op HERRICK 9 has been an intense and demanding experience, and a challenge to which everyone concerned has risen admirably. I hope that all enjoy their thoroughly well deserved post operational tour leave."