Saturday, June 6, 2009

Northern Ireland soldiers crucial for training police in Afghanistan

Soldiers despatched to Afghanistan from Northern Ireland are helping to improve security in one of the country’s frontline towns.

The soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Rifles, normally based at Ballykinler, have been training police officers in the town of Sangin — a former Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan.

Previously Sangin was regarded as one of the most dangerous parts of Helmand Province. Last year Royal Irish Regiment soldier Ranger Justin Cupples was killed during a Taliban bomb attack as he patrolled the town on foot.

Much of the violence has now shifted further south and last month two more young soldiers from Northern Ireland were killed in separate insurgent attacks near Musa Qal’eh. Lance Corporal Nigel Moffat (28) who was attached to the Light Dragoons Regiment died during an operation on May 30 and Corporal Sean Binnie (22), a member of the 3rd Battalion Blackwatch was killed during a fire fight on May 7.

Training and mentoring the Afghan National Army has been a primary focus for the British Army who control military operations in Helmand.

Army sources say that violencc in Sangin has decreased, aided by the construction of a secure governance zone and a growing economic zone. They claim the training of 20 new police officers has been crucial in keeping crime and killings down.

Last month a new school, a health clinic and government offices were opened in Sangin while success in countering drugs also means that the view from the military Fire Support Group tower is of wheat fields for food and cash crops, rather than opium fields.

The new police officers all received basic training from a combined ISAF and US forces team during an eight-week Focused District Development course and have now been issued new uniforms and new weapons.

Lieutenant Colonel Rob Thomson, of 2 Rifles Battle Group, said: “We’re proud to stand with the Army and fight to work together for the people of Sangin.”

The deputy district chief of police in Sangin, Commander Nayim, added: “They are tough, fighting men and will bring security to the people of Sangin. This is a new day in the fight to bring peace to Afghanistan.”

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