Angels and armour
28 November 2017
Traveling the streets of Kabul can be daunting, however Australian troops serving in the city have their own dedicated protection force of angles and armour to keep the risk manageable.
The soldiers of Force Protection Element 8 (FPE-8) and their protected vehicles have the job of moving people safely around town where they then maintain an overwatch role while specialist personnel undertake their work.
The team is based on 3RAR’s B Company and consists of about 150 soldiers who are tasked with protecting Australian advisors and mentors working for the NATO mission in Afghanistan.
On the way to a task, you might be taken in an up-armoured 4WD or a Bushmaster Protected Mobility Vehicle (PMV) driven by an infantryman like Private Javier Batlle.
“Kabul is like any major city, the traffic can be pretty full-on,” he said.
“People tend to let us through places first though, they think of us as being a small tank so people generally get out of the way.
“No-one really tries to take on a 15-tonne PMV.”
Private Batlle and his fellow drivers are trained in tactical driving to deal with other cars, however often it is people on foot that can be the danger.
“You have to watch out for people getting out in front of you as pedestrians tend to have right of way in their culture,” he said.
Passengers in the back of a Bushmaster don’t enjoy the best view, but the crew have a 360-degree field of vision thanks to a remote controlled protected weapons station on top of the vehicle.
“When you first drive in Kabul you have to take it easy,” Private Batlle said.
“Other cars will always try to creep up on the inside as you’re turning.
“They sometimes don’t appreciate how big and bulky a PMV is and what it could do to a normal car.”
Once you arrive in location, a guardian angel like Lance Corporal Mark Schure will keep an eye out for threats while you go about your business.
“You have to stay on the ball all the time, it’s that moment of compliancy where things can go wrong,” he said.
“You can do a four-hour stint and nothing happens, but you have to make sure you’re always ready to deal with anything.”
The guardian angels will be with you when you’re working outside at an Afghan base or in a meeting.
“You’re constantly scanning the room,” LCpl Schure said.
“You have a plan if you have to get out of a building quickly.
“You’re thinking about where your mentor is, how you would best grab him, and different scenarios.
“Apart from windows, you’re also keeping an eye on apertures like gaps in the walls.”
Major Sam Thackray, the Officer Commanding FPE-8, said professional standard of his team is well known among the Coalition partners.
“We’re often approached by other nations to get support from our team,” he said.
“The reputation of the Australian Force Protection Element over here is exceptional.
“It’s due to the quality of the training we receive in Australia and our outstanding junior leadership.”
The Bushmasters also proved a hit with coalition soldiers who had the chance to ride in one.
“They say they’re comfortable and the professionalism of the crews impresses them as well,” Major Thackray said.