Friday, July 24, 2009

11 Light Brigade ready for Afghan deployment

In preparation for 11 Light Brigade's deployment to Afghanistan this October, 4,000 troops have come together on Salisbury Plain over the last two weeks for a mission rehearsal exercise.

Troops from 11 Light Brigade, which was specially formed from many different regiments for operations in Afghanistan, have been training on the plain on and off since December 2008.

The Brigade will be commanded by Brigadier James Cowan who was tasked with assembling the force in 2007:

"I formed it, trained it, I will deploy it, fight it, bring it home and disband it," he said. "We are ready for the task."

Brigadier Cowan explained that the training on Salisbury Plain is the climax to many months of preparation and likened his role so far to that of a conductor of a symphony orchestra, bringing together many disparate and specialist units to act together as one:

"This is the culmination of our training," Brigadier Cowan explained. "What has gone before is about people learning to play their instruments or play as a quartet. Here the whole orchestra comes together for a full dress rehearsal."

As well as the thousands of troops, the other component of the orchestra on Salisbury Plain over the last two weeks is equipment, including some 400 wheeled and 20 tracked vehicles, Apache, Lynx, Gazelle, Sea King, Merlin and Chinook helicopters as well as a small number of Fast Jets and Air Transport C130 Hercules aircraft.

Brigadier Cowan added:

"The performance [in theatre] is only the tip of the iceberg. What delivers success is rehearsal and if you rehearse properly and train hard you fight easy."

Much of that rehearsal and training has been based around counter insurgency, and with one of the main weapons currently used by the insurgents against coalition forces being Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) 11 Light Brigade will have several specialist teams to discover and disarm the bombs.

A veteran of a previous deployment to Afghanistan, Sergeant Ken O'Dwyer of 33 Engineer Regiment (EOD) has being working with the counter IED taskforce and will be one of those charged with the task of discovering the IEDs before they pose a threat to his comrades.

He has been impressed with the progress made in his training and equipment since his last deployment in Afghanistan in 2007:

"Since then the equipment has got a lot better and we have everything we really need," Sergeant Dwyer said. "I feel much more confident going out there now. The training we have had is phenomenal."

In addition to counter insurgency there will be several other main themes for 11 Light Brigade during their six month tour of duty in Afghanistan which include counter-narcotics and developing the Afghan National Security Forces.

Now together, 11 Light Brigade will continue to carry out final preparations on Salisbury Plain until deployment in October.

Surveying his force, Brigadier Cowan was optimistic and proud of what his men have achieved so far but said that the task would be a difficult one and that theirs was just a small part of a much bigger and ongoing effort:

"What I see are soldiers who are cheerful, whose morale is high and who are looking forward to what lies ahead.

"In a counter insurgency we are seeking to win Afghanistan for its people. But that is not going to be in my time because counter insurgency requires patience. I'm not seeking at the end of six months to declare success or victory.

"It is about inching our way towards that success. Others will achieve it in the longer term. We are merely one task force in one half of a province in a much longer campaign that will endure over time."

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