Friday, August 28, 2009

Life in Helmand, Afghanistan

My soldiers have fought with resilience... When the Taliban have tried to take them on we have won every time

The Co Down man in charge of British forces in Helmand Province has spoken of pride at his troops' achievements during one of the military's most difficult tours of duty.

Brigadier Tim Radford, head of 19 Light Brigade, the first full-sized brigade to deploy from Northern Ireland since WWII, paid tribute to the bravery, courage and sacrifice shown by the 3,000 soldiers who left bases at Antrim, Holywood, Lisburn and Ballykinler for a six-month stint in one of the world's most dangerous places.

Speaking during a rarely given media briefing, the Thiepval-based Brigadier said: “The soldiers in my brigade have worked extremely hard over a hard summer and they have fought with resilience and fortitude at every turn. And when the Taliban have tried to take them on with force we have won every time.

“I think what's really important is how they have done it in terms of the judgement and measure they have shown on the ground during very trying conditions.”

He added: “19 Light Brigade is the first brigade to deploy from Northern Ireland since the Second World War. It is a reflection of military bases in Northern Ireland being treated the same as those in England and elsewhere in the UK, rather than as an operational theatre for the British Army. On a personal level I am very proud to be commanding a Task Force that has left the place where I grew up and where I still have many friends.”

But Brigadier Radford, who is a former Methodist College student, also warned that peace could not be achieved by the military alone.

With the death toll soaring to 207 and casualty figures undisclosed it is the military who are taking the biggest losses.

“Afghanistan, like Northern Ireland, will not find a solution by purely military means. But the physical environment in Afghanistan is very different and the fighting here is much more intense,” he said.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion The Mercians, 2 Rifles, 38 Engineer Regiment and Combat Service Support Battalion, deployed from Northern Ireland back in March, have been the lead forces in Helmand.

Few regiments have escaped without serious casualties or losses but for the Ballykinler-based 2nd Battalion The Rifles it has been a particularly devastating tour. The unit is based at Sangin — a Taliban stronghold in northern Helmand — and have lost 12 men to date.

For the engineers’ deployment was made even more difficult after the shooting of Sappers Mark Quinsey and Patrick Azimkar in a RIRA attack at Massereene in March.

Brigadier Radford said: “We have had a tough tour but morale remains high. In many cases the loss of a colleague only serves to harden the resolve of the soldiers to continue the fight in their name.

“I speak to the Commanding Officer of 2 Rifles, Lt Colonel Rob Thomson, on a daily basis and I visit them in Sangin and the outlying stations as often as I can. Whilst they have taken some big hits during the tour the commanding officer has led them brilliantly.

“I am full of admiration for them and what they have achieved.”

Asked about whether the threat from dissident republicans made it more difficult leaving family back at base in Northern Ireland, the brigadier said his soldiers were looking forward to finishing the operational tour and returning to their bases.

He added: “Everybody who leaves home for six months misses their family and friends but I think we are extremely well looked after by the home team and it will be great to be able to go back home at the end of the summer.

“I believe the public in Northern Ireland are fully behind the soldiers serving in Afghanistan, judging by the letters we receive and the send-off we received when we left back in April. We are very much looking forward to returning to Northern Ireland in October.”

1 comment:

  1. The Thunder Run has linked to this post in the blog post From the Front: 08/31/2009 News and Personal dispatches from the front and the home front.