Saturday, April 11, 2009

Latest from the Mercians in Afghanistan

SOLDIERS from the 2nd Battalion of the Mercian Regiment have already been in a dozen battles with the Taliban since arriving in Helmand Province in March.

Speaking from Afghanistan, Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Simon Banton said: "The battles have ranged from dealing with mines and incendiary explosive devices to gun battles fighting the enemy with machine guns, AK47s and rockets and some have been quite drawn out."

One soldier was injured after a rocket landed three metres in front of him, blasting him off the ground, during a one-and-a-half-hour battle.

He had emergency surgery on his arm, but is recovering back home and hopes to return to Afghanistan in June.

The soldiers flew out for their third tour of Afghanistan in March and are based at Camp Tombstone next to Camp Shorabak – the headquarters of the Afghanistan National Army (ANA).

They are part of 19 Light Brigade's Op HERRICK 10, working as "operational mentoring liaison teams" which involves working closely with the ANA and police forces.

At the moment the Mercians are working alongside them to provide security for the upcoming election.

"The Afghan army will be providing key security and the 2nd Mercian mentors will be working alongside," said Lt Col Banton.

"It's very important for Afghan people to see their own security forces providing the forces for a national event."

And Lt Col Banton said the soldiers were coping well with their new role.

"I think many of the young soldiers are really enjoying it," he said. "They are operating in quite small teams in quite remote areas.

"Eight Mercians and 50 to 100 Afghan troops will be left alone for quite long lengths of time – so there is lots of responsibility."

The weather is beginning to get hotter out in Helmand, but Lt Col Banton said that they have had time to acclimatise and will be ready for the onset of summer.

He said the soldiers will not be having time off over Easter, but would have an Easter church service.

Their next celebration is a medieval feast to celebrate St George's Day.

Lt Col Banton added that while parcels are welcomed by the troops, readers should not forget about those who have been injured.

"I think we are always hugely grateful for the parcels that we receive – we receive an awful lot and that's quite wonderful.

"But I am always very minded that my six months of hardship is nothing to the hardship our wounded have to endure.

"From 2007 I have five soldiers with catastrophic injuries – missing limbs and brain damage – who will never get through it.

"So keep giving to military charities – rather than spending £10 on a parcel – donate £10 to a charity tin."

To get through the tour Lt Col Banton said the troops were relying on helping each other.

"They are formed in really small tight teams where everything is based on trust," said Lt Col Banton.

"As long as they trust each other they will get through it – there is always somebody in the crew who will pick them up.

"It's very difficult to face different situations when alone, but when your mates are around and you are going through the same situation you feel better because they are there."

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