The Gurkhas, normally based in Maidstone, Kent, have been tasked with constructing a perimeter fence and security sangars (observation towers) around the new District Compound in order to establish a safe area for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) to operate from.
The security perimeter is constructed from 'Hesco Bastion' containers filled with 9,000 cubed metres of locally sourced aggregate. It will be topped off with barbed security wire and the sangars will require in excess of 5,000 sandbags to provide the necessary force protection.
Captain Dev Gurung, Officer Commanding the 25-strong Platoon, said:
"My primary task is the perimeter fence and the sangars; followed on by the life support, which is the sanitation and water."
Not all the stores required for the task are readily available, as Captain Gurung explained:
"Some critical stores which are not available in theatre are from the UK, but where possible we try to purchase locally using the resource system based in Kandahar and Camp Bastion."
The Gurkhas are working hard to complete the task as quickly as possible. The hours are long, often moving material and stores well into the night. All the while, the threat of mortar, rocket and small arms fire is ever present adding impetus to the engineers' work.
Captain Gurung is on his fifth operational tour and he accepts that whilst every operational theatre is different, the challenge in Helmand has no comparison:
"The combined threat and engineering challenge is unsurpassed," he said, "almost definitely the hardest task I've ever had to deliver during my 20 years of service."
Once complete, the new district compound will be home to elements of the ANA along with their British mentors from Charlie Company, 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (formerly The Green Howards). The unit's second in command, Major Mark Bower, is under no illusions about the size of the task he and his soldiers face:
An Engineer from 69 Gurkha Field Squadron, 36 Engineer Regiment, cooks dinner whilst the squadron is tasked with building security for the new District Compound at Musa Qaleh in northern Helmand, Afghanistan
[Picture: SAC Kimberley Waterson RAF]
"This is a huge engineering task to be achieved in a very short space of time," he explained, "but if the British mentors, along with the Afghan National Army, are able to influence this whole Musa Qaleh region which is very important to us, we need a firm base from which to work out of. So the engineers are absolutely essential in giving us that protected area to work out of, which has been the whole focus of our operations in the last two weeks."
The establishment of this District Compound signifies the commitment of ISAF in support of the ANA and the local population according to Major Bower:
"The Engineers are allowing the Afghan National Army to operate and remain in Musa Qaleh and that is what we need to get across to the civilians in this area - that we are here to stay."