A SUNDERLAND servicewoman has been honoured for helping change the lives of people in an Afghan community who live under constant threat of the Taliban.
Diplomatic Sttevei Atalla was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Valuable Service after carrying out vital work in an area of the war-torn country.
Working as a Military Stabilisation Support Team (MSST) Operator officer, she is said to have carried out her role between September 2011 until February in Helmand Province in an “exemplary” manner, also helping to ensure international spending on development projects was reduced.
Flying officer Attalla, who is based at RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, said: “We were based in Northern Helmand, it was a very rural community in an isolated area separated from the central government.
“We wanted to help the locals to become a self-sufficient community linked with the Afghan Government.
“It was my job to build a rapport with the local people to build up their confidence so that the elders could form their own village council or Shura that would then link with the Afghan Government.
“I would go out every day with a patrol from Delhi Company The Royal Yorkshire Regiment to meet with the locals to gain their confidence, because there was a lot of insurgent activity we were fired at regularly.”
The 29-year-old added: “There was one compound across the river that was more isolated than the others.
“The people there were from the Kuchi tribe, which is a lower caste than the Pashtu, so there was a division.
“I would go out and sit under a tree with my interpreter and wait.
“We would get engaged in firefights by the Taliban who did not want us there but we would always come back.
“Slowly, people started to come to us, first the children then the adults.
“They would have tea with us.
“After five months, we were able to hand the security of that area over to the Afghan Local Police.
“We had worked with the council to set up the police force because security was one of the big issues that concerned the elders.
“One man I worked with was so keen to help improve the area that he donated his field as a checkpoint for the new police service.”
Officer Attalla was instrumental in smoothing relations between village elders and the new Afghanistan Government.
“When I arrived, there were only five people on the council.
“By the time that I left, there were over 30 council members and a police force that was providing the security for the area, which had been unheard of in that part of Afghanistan,” she added.
“The local people became fond of me. They called me name Guwette, which means desert flower. They started handing in IEDs because they were concerned for my safety.”
She paid tribute to her comrades, saying: “Receiving the honour has been a nice surprise. I am very humbled.
“I could not have done it without the soldiers of Delhi Company 1 Yorkshire Regiment, who gave 101 per cent.
“I have been awarded for a job I loved and completely believed in.”