Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Commander’s praise for troops

He describes tour in Helmand as ‘incredibly hard’ as Afghanistan death toll reaches 204.

By Sam Marsden

The commander of British forces in Helmand province spoke yesterday of the “incredibly hard” tour his troops have endured as the UK death toll in Afghanistan reached 204.

There have been 52 British fatalities since Northern Ireland-based 19 Light Brigade took over in Helmand in April, including 22 in July alone.

Brigadier Tim Radford, commander of Task Force Helmand, said he firmly believed morale was still high.

He pointed to the bravery demonstrated by his troops during Operation Panther’s Claw, also known by its Pashtun name, Panchai Palang, to clear insurgents out of a former stronghold ahead of Afghan elections on Thursday.

“Everybody is working extremely hard, but I am absolutely convinced that everybody knows what they have got to do, and that their resolve is strong,” he said.

“The courage and fortitude that was shown in Panchai Palang demonstrates that.”

Speaking from the British military HQ at Lashkar Gah in Helmand, Brig Radford admitted the fierce fighting over the past four months had taken its toll. He said: “We were expecting it to be probably the hardest summer there has been, based on intelligence and based on the stage of the campaign we are at.

“From a brigade perspective, across the brigade it has been an incredibly hard tour. You don’t lose as many friends and colleagues as we have lost without feeling it deeply every time.

“From a personal perspective, of course as commander of Task Force Helmand one feels every death extremely deeply.”

The five-week Operation Panther’s Claw, so-called because the panther is the symbol of 19 Light Brigade, was hailed as a major success against the Taliban.

Brig Radford said there was a real sense of purpose among his troops, who will finish their tour in October.

“Morale means having the spirit to get up and do your job,” he said. “I firmly believe that morale is high. I have seen nothing that changes my view of that.”

He added: “What is absolutely key is there is an absolute determination and resolve to finish the job before we go home. So nobody is looking at this stage towards the end but rather to the job in hand. Of course people miss home and their families and children.

“But this is a job, and everybody is absolutely focused on doing it to the best of their ability in the true tradition of the British Army.”

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