In one of the last-ever interviews with a senior officer serving in Afghanistan, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Sefton, Commanding Officer of The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion, Royal Regiment of Scotland (3 SCOTS), reflects on the final operational tour under the NATO Resolute Support mission.
Forming the Kabul Protection Unit, part of the Kabul Security Force, around 250 troops from 3 SCOTS were in the capital. They were providing force protection, a Quick Reaction Force (QRF) and an incident management function, in addition to returning kit and equipment to the UK. The Quartermaster’s department has been extremely busy; organising and packing up equipment that accumulated over the 20 years the British Army has been in Afghanistan.
Speaking from Kabul, where the unit was deployed, Col Graham, who served on Op Herrick and on previous Op Toral missions, said:
Afghan security forces are ready – they’ve definitely got a challenge ahead but we have spent a lot of time training, advising and working alongside them to ensure that they have the capabilities they need. Lieutenant Colonel Graham Sefton, Commanding Officer 3 SCOTS
“We were on a NATO mission, where we still provided a QRF and had forces on 15 and 30 minutes notice to move, to respond to any incident involving NATO forces or members of the international community. Now it is very much focused on the British mission of getting people and equipment out.
“It is different. I was on Op Herrick 17, and the mission was in a different place. At that time we were working with Afghan security services at a very tactical level. By the time I came back to Kabul in 2016, NATO was advising at the strategic and ministerial level. A lot has changed.
“Afghan security forces are ready – they’ve definitely got a challenge ahead but we have spent a lot of time training, advising and working alongside them to ensure that they have the capabilities they need.”
The unit started the tour with some troops in New Kabul Compound, and some in Headquarters Resolute Support, with the remainder stationed in Hamid Karzai International Airport. Working with their US counterparts, 3 SCOTS were initially responsible for closing New Kabul Compound and handing it over to the Afghan security forces. Then, on 18th June, they left HQ Resolute Support, leaving remaining troops on duty in the airport.
The British troops worked with soldiers from all over the world on the NATO part of the mission; from as far afield as Denmark or Mongolia [despite Mongolia not being part of NATO, they provided guard troops for one of the areas], with the CO describing it as an ‘international effort.’
Col Graham praised the soldiers of 3 SCOTS, who have faced uncertainty around the deployment.
“I’ve been hugely proud of what the soldiers has achieved. There was a lot of uncertainty about whether we’d deploy at all. What’s been most impressive is their ability to cope with that uncertainty. There are very few soldiers that are in the same base that they originally deployed to, and they’ve been flexible about the mission changing. They’ve done it in that brilliant way that British soldiers approach every task – with good humour and enthusiasm.”
The last unit to serve in Afghanistan on Op Toral, the soldiers took part in a field service to remember all those who had been before them, and to reflect on the last 20 years.
“A lot of our soldiers have never been to Afghanistan. For those young soldiers who’ve never deployed on operational tour before, it’s a very enriching experience, working with international troops and in a new and fascinating environment. Kabul is still a dangerous place for our soldiers and we need to recognise the risk those soldiers are taking; while the nature of the risk is different to that experienced by those who have served in Helmand, it remains significant.
“Now it may be very different to what they might have seen on YouTube from Herrick but it is still very challenging and the Jocks have remained sharp. For the more seasoned soldiers, it’s totally different from Herrick tours.”