South Yorkshire soldiers training Afghan troops to take over security

Afghanistan'afghansram'Capt Christian Wragg, left, and WO1 Rob Hollis, right
Afghanistan'afghansram'Capt Christian Wragg, left, and WO1 Rob Hollis, right
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By the end of this year, it is hoped 171,000 Afghan National Army recruits will be trained up so they can begin taking control of the war-torn country.

Those volunteering to sign up are undergoing intensive eight-week courses mentored by soldiers from the different countries who make up the international security force in Afghanistan.

One of the training centres is at Camp Shorabak, next to Camp Bastion, which is run by British and Danish forces.

Working to the tight deadline set by the Afghan government, which aims to build up sufficient forces to have control of all security operations by 2014, is a challenge.

In eight weeks, often poorly-educated Afghan recruits have to learn what British Army recruits are taught in up to 22 weeks.

Warrant Officer 1 Rob ‘Reg’ Hollis, Regimental Sergeant Major of Third Battalion the Yorkshire Regiment, is the senior non-commissioned officer in charge of training at Shorabak.

The 42-year-old, from Mosborough in Sheffield, said: “They are taught about discipline, welfare, administration and weapons systems, plus battlefield casualty drills and improvised explosive device detection.

“The team I am in has taken over training two weeks ago and our first intake has been around 700 people. It will rise to 1,400 on future courses.

“We also run two-week courses in addition for those seen as potential leaders on the initial courses, who tend to be the more well-educated recruits or those who have picked up their military skills particularly well.”

The course is being run by instructors from the Army, RAF, Navy and Royal Marines – and WO1 Hollis is well-placed having served in Bosnia, Kosovo, Northern Ireland numerous times, and twice in Iraq.

Also helping to run the training is Captain Christian Wragg, 28, who grew up in Ecclesfield and went to Sheffield University but is now a member of Second Battalion, the Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment.

He said: “We have regional mentoring centres for training the Afghan National Army in Kabul, which is run by the Americans, plus other centres around the provinces which are run by different nations.”

WO1 Hollis and Capt Wragg are less than a month into a six-month stint running the courses, under the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan.

WO Hollis, who is married to Julie and has two children, Rebecca, 21, and Joshua, eight, said: “We anticipate it being a great challenge. What we are trying to do is educate people who often, without belittling them, have little or no education.

“My training as an infantry soldier took 22 weeks – and that is the amount of time it takes to train educated, enthusiastic young lads.

“But, having said that, the vast majority of ANA recruits are very angry with the Taliban for what they have done to their families.

“There’s quite a few like that – it gives them the motivation.”

Capt Wragg said: “One guy, who looked quite old with his beard but was actually only in his 30s, had lost his father, son and brother. They were all killed by the Taliban.”

Communication is a potential barrier between the Afghan recruits and their instructors, which is overcome through the use of interpreters. Some Afghan soldiers are learning English so they can pass on instructions and commands. “We would like to train them for longer but we are working on a timeline set by the Afghan Government,” WO1 Hollis said.

Capt Wragg, whose dad, retired teacher John, still lives in Ecclesfield, added: “The recruits have to learn quickly. A big priority is weapons training as they will be out shooting the Taliban within weeks.”

Members of the Afghan National Army are recruited from across the country but are a broad ethnic mix, so they can work with the population in all areas despite the different languages and customs across the land.

The vast majority of Afghan recruits are in their early 20s – but Capt Wragg, an Iraq veteran, said some ANA members are former anti-Taliban Mujahideen fighters, who were active before international forces moved to the country in 2001.

After training at Shorabak, Afghan National Army soldiers are then posted to work on the ground taking on the insurgents.