News Article

Training to be 11 Light Brigade's eyes and ears in Afghanistan

A Training and Adventure news article

8 Jul 09

Fighting side-by-side in the South African outback, a mixture of gunners, infantrymen, cavalrymen, engineers and Gurkhas have recently been on exercise to prepare for deployment to Afghanistan later this year as part of 11 Light Brigade. Report by Heidi Mines.

Soldiers lurk in the grassy undergrowth

Soldiers lurk in the grassy undergrowth waiting to begin their attack
[Picture: Steve Dock, Crown Copyright/MOD 2009]

The troops, who were hand-picked following a selection course that firmly separated the men from the boys, were brought together to form the Brigade Reconnaissance Force (BRF).

Operating in the far reaches of Afghanistan's badlands, the BRF will take on the key responsibilities of surveillance and gathering intelligence for the brigade commander later in the year.

Major Gordon Clifford (Household Cavalry Regiment), BRF Squadron Leader, said:

"We looked for aptitude, enthusiasm and professionalism.

"We will be expected to be the brigade commander's eyes and ears rather than operate through the main battle group, which may bring numerous and challenging tasks our way.

"We can be asked to assess the atmospherics of areas that haven't been operated in by coalition forces previously."

A night-time assault exercise, which took place in Northern Cape, South Africa, represented the initial phase of training on Exercise Kalahari Thorn.

Lurking in the grassy undergrowth, soldiers waited for the cover of darkness before beginning their attack.

"Recent operations have shown that one BRF patrol was deployed in the field for more than four months and we have to be prepared to do that."

Major Gordon Clifford, BRF Squadron Leader

As a cool evening turned slowly to night, a stream of green lights meandered one-by-one in the direction of the high ground that loomed ahead.

The glow sticks attached to the soldiers' helmets were the only clue that British troops were creeping towards their enemy.

Suddenly the procession halted and the silence was punctuated by a flurry of whispers passed down the chain of waiting warriors. Soon the lights were extinguished and their carriers dropped to the ground in total darkness.

After receiving the go-ahead to press on, the soldiers continued to their final destination, where a cacophony of firing weapons filled the air with an intensity to match even the noisiest Guy Fawkes' night.

With the darkness pierced by muzzle flashes and sky-bound flares, the camouflaged faces of the soldiers became visible for the first time and the looks of determination on the young men showed they meant business.

Despite the slick skills and drills demonstrated by the group of around 100 soldiers, this was the first time they had been brought together since their rigorous selection process.

The combat training ground, set in the mining area of Lohatlha, provided 140 hectares of terrain for live firing.

Under the watchful eye of British Army instructors, the soldiers were put through a sequence of demanding serials devised to bring everyone to a common standard.

The rusty red stains imprinted on the soldiers' desert uniforms by the native soil and seemingly never-ending rain were testament to the fact that their time in South Africa was anything but easy.

Being pushed to the limits in all conditions is essential practice for the reconnaissance force, as the highly-skilled asset traditionally launches long-range patrols away from the relative safety and protection of the forward operating bases in and around Helmand province.

"The training ground here gives us an out of area context. It provides all of us with an opportunity to exercise in unfamiliar terrain and that is going to be very beneficial."

Major Gordon Clifford, BRF Squadron Leader

And the training took on added relevance as Lohatlha's terrain, lined with mountains and abundant high ground, provided a landscape similar to that of Afghanistan:

"Recent operations have shown that one BRF patrol was deployed in the field for more than four months and we have to be prepared to do that," explained Major Clifford.

"The training ground here gives us an out of area context. It provides all of us with an opportunity to exercise in unfamiliar terrain and that is going to be very beneficial."

Stood-up solely for their forthcoming deployment to Afghanistan, 11 Light Brigade will bring a wealth of experience to theatre as some of its soldiers have served on the front line as recently as last year.

When it came to selecting the best to deploy on lengthy and hazardous missions for the BRF, there was an experienced pool to choose from.

The elite group honing their skills in South Africa could face months alone in the desert relying on airdrops and their job will undoubtedly be dangerous.

But this small team of highly-trained individuals are fully focused on becoming an integral part of the British Army's efforts in Afghanistan and are looking forward to proving themselves as the cream of the crop of 11 Light Brigade.

This article first appeared in the June 2009 issue of Soldier - Magazine of the British Army.

Soldier magazine

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