Wednesday, June 30, 2010

School Shura in Nad-e Ali

ISAF newspapers are being used by local elders at a school in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand Province, Afghanistan, to educate children in three languages. The newspapers are printed in Dari, Pashtu and English, allowing the children to learn their local language as well as English.

Warrant Officer William “Taff” Davies, Royal Air Force, is part of the Military Stabilisation Support Team working with soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment as part of Combined Force Nad-e Ali. Taff and his team have been working with both the local village elders and the Education Minister to help improve education for the village children.

The school in the village, was destroyed in the past by insurgents when they tried to demonstrate their control and influence of the Kalay [village]. The local elders now teach the schoolchildren in temporary locations and PB Shahzad provides a secure and ideal setting for education.

Taff said: “I was confused as to why they wanted to take so many copies of our newspapers until a local elder told me that the newspaper is an invaluable source of information and education.”

A shura – or meeting - that was recently held to discuss the educational requirements of the local children resulted in confirmation from the Provincial Education Minister that a new school would be provided as part of a development project.

Taff said: “In the meantime, the Military Stabilisation Support Team is providing valuable resources in the form of schoolbooks and pens – along with the newspapers - to facilitate the children’s education.

Checkpoint named after Military Policeman who died protecting local police

The British Army and the Afghan National Police have renamed a patrol base in Helmand Province after a military policeman who died protecting the Afghans he was mentoring there.

33 year-old Sergeant Robert ‘LD’ Loughran-Dickson from Kent who was based in Aldershot, Hampshire, died last November while patrolling with the Afghan National Police near the capital of Helmand Province, Lashkar Gah. He was killed in an exchange of fire by insurgents.

Now his Royal Military Police colleagues, who have followed in his footsteps and are advising the Afghan National Police in Helmand, have put up a plaque to commemorate his sacrifice, and renamed the compound where he was working in the Bolan District as Check Point L-D.

“He was embedded with the infantry and he set off from here with members of the Afghan National Police on a patrol on the day that he died,” said Staff Sergeant Holly Turner, who worked with Sergeant Loughran -Dickson when she was also based in Aldershot, with 160 Provost Company.

“He was a great guy. There are many words which could be used to describe him, but none of them would be enough. He was caring, generous, thoughtful, and a great Dad.”

Members of the RMP gathered for the memorial ceremony, standing alongside the local Chief of Police, Colonel Hakim Khan, and his men.

A letter from Sergeant Loughran -Dickson’s family was read aloud and described him as a ‘true hero’ that the whole family was extremely proud of.

“You never forget people. Their memory is always with you,” said Staff Sergeant Turner. “But all our troops who come through Check Point L-D, for as long as we remain in Afghanistan, will see that plaque and Rob will be a part of all their lives. That is fantastic and I think it will delight his family.”

Colonel Hakim Khan, the Chief of Police whose Afghan Policemen were mentored by Sergeant Loughran -Dickson said: “We will always call this Check Point L-D after him. We are never happy when one of our mentors is injured or killed. We learn so much from them and we want every one of them to go back to their country safe and well. But Sergeant L-D’s memory will stay here, with us.”

Images: Sgt Karl Whitelaw

9 Regiment RLC honoured after Afghan tour of duty

Soldiers from 9 Regiment, The Royal Logistic Corps (RLC), marched through Malmesbury yesterday where, in addition to receiving their Afghanistan operational medals, they were awarded the “Freedom” of the historic Wiltshire town.
The streets of Malmesbury line with well wishers

The event organised by the Town Council saw troops, dressed in their desert combat uniforms, forming up at the War Memorial in Malmesbury. From there, they were led by the band of the Royal Logistic Corps to the Town Square, where around 150 personnel from the Regiment were presented with their Operation HERRICK medals by the Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire and the Mayor of Malmesbury.

Lord Lieutenant of Wiltshire and the Mayor of Malmesbury presenting medals

The parade then marched to Malmesbury Abbey where a service of thanksgiving was held, followed by a Civic Ceremony at the Town Hall. Throughout family, friends and people from the town showed their appreciation and cheered, applauded and waved flags.

“To come home and receive such a massive level of support from the local community is quite amazing, and unique in my twenty plus years service to date,” said Lieutenant Colonel Simon Jordan Commanding Officer 9 Regt RLC.

“In addition, to receive the freedom of Malmesbury is a seminal moment for the soldiers of 9 Regt. I am proud and honoured to accept this honour on their behalf. The parade is a celebration of the hard work conducted by the soldiers, a fitting end to a hard tour and an opportunity for the whole community to get together. On behalf of the whole Regiment I would like to thank the people of Malmesbury and the surrounding area for this fantastic display of support.”

Personnel from 9 Regiment completed their 6 month deployment to Afghanistan in May 2010. Those deployed were mainly from 94 Squadron Group with the backbone of personnel being Gurkha soldiers.

Operational Service medals

Once in Afghanistan they formed part of the Theatre Logistic Group, providing the British forces in Afghanistan with everything from bullets, body armour and medical supplies to fuel, rations, water and welfare facilities. Most of those on parade were stationed in Kandahar and Camp Bastion in Helmand province, although there were also detachments working from Kabul and various Forward Operating Bases.

Images: Sgt Adrian Harlen

Insurgents use the population as human shields

Soldiers from Fondouk Squadron, Queen's Royal Lancers, working alongside Afghan National Police bring security to the Bolan Desert in Helmand Province.

They were out reassuring the Afghan people that there is an alternative to the violence and intimidation demonstrated by the insurgents is absolutely vital to the mission in Afghanistan.

It was a joint operation from beginning to end. Jointly planned, co-ordinated and carried out with the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP). This was to be the first operation for the ANCOP, recently arrived in Helmand from Kabul.

Key throughout the planning stages was the discussion of how to avoid civilian casualties. Colonel Hakkim, Commander of the ANCOP made clear where the responsibility lay: “Bullets can’t tell the difference between Insurgents and children, but you can and you pull the trigger.”

As the operation got underway everyone was alert as intelligence received earlier in the day had suggested that insurgents had seen the ANCOP and ISAF vehicles and were preparing to attack from all directions.

As Fondouk Squadron withdrew from the muddy local fields, empty after the harvest, one vehicle lost its tracks as it was forced off by the cloying mud.

“The Insurgents saw their opportunity and fired at the crew as we attempted to rectify the problem, mindless of the women and children close by. If the villagers needed any clearer indication of how little the Insurgents care for their wellbeing, this was it,” said Major Jim Walker, Officer Commanding Fondouk Squadron.

Fondouk Squadron instinctively moved forward to protect the villagers and recover the stricken vehicle. Squadron Sergeant Major Tony Gould pushed forward in a recovery vehicle, accompanied by the squadron medic, Lance Corporal Cheryl Fray. The medic checked that the villagers hadn’t suffered any injuries while Sergeant Major Gould assessed the situation and got the vehicle back on the road. Meanwhile, the remaining Scimitars of 3rd Troop moved forward to protect and secure the area.

“It was lively for a while, but the shooting soon stopped as the vehicles came forward. Luckily, there were no injuries to the local people.” said Lance Corporal Fray.

The Insurgents had by this time dropped their weapons and hidden among women and children in the compounds. With the vehicle repaired the Squadron moved back once more. But the danger had not passed. Again the Insurgents tried to engage, aiming small arms fire on the troops.

Lieutenant Jonny Clayton, supported by his Troop Sergeant Dave Chappell, moved towards the Insurgents to deter them from further attacks. It was this willingness to advance towards them that surprised and wrong footed them, with the shots soon dropping away.

Lieutenant Clayton said: “We saw them with their weapons retreat into compounds using children as their shields. We will not fire on them in that situation. Protecting the people is always at the front of our minds. But we moved closer so we could identify the compounds they were hiding in.”

Content that they had learned much from the villagers and shown strength against the insurgents, the Squadron moved back through the village.

Major Walker said: “This operation was an overwhelming success. It was our first joint operation with the ANCOP. We planned it together and carried it out together. Not only that, we were able to show the people there is an alternative to the insurgents’ intimidation of the weak, the young and the elderly. I hope they now understand that they have the power. The insurgents are afraid of the people - because united, they have the power to reject them.

Images: Cpl Gary Kendall

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Doing the right things and doing them right

Statement by Lieutenant Colonel Andy Hadfield, and Lieutenant Colonel Paul James, ahead of today’s repatriation flight to RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire.

By Lieutenant Colonel Andy Hadfield Commanding Officer 1 MERCIAN

Without doubt this has been a difficult week in Afghanistan, with a number of men losing their lives. But the soldier does not have the freedom to choose where he is sent and what he must do when he gets there. He does however have the freedom to choose to do the right thing and to do it to the very best of his ability, and sometimes this requires that he make the ultimate sacrifice.

With the obvious exception of their loved ones at home, no-one feels the pain of the losses in Afghanistan more than the servicemen and women out here. I read a lot in the media that questions whether the sacrifice is worth it, and whether anything is being achieved through our efforts. The answer is overwhelmingly yes.

Those who have never been in the Armed Forces, or who have never been on the front line, would find the sense of optimism and fortitude amongst the troops humbling, but would simply not understand the motivation that leads men to risk their lives daily for seemingly little reward in pursuit of what some people see as an unachievable goal.

We mourn the loss of our most recent dead, the four men who died assisting the Gereshk City Police, but we know that their efforts were improving the police in preparation for longer term stability and were making that City of 80, 000 people safer. The rest of the team who are left are focused on continuing their work, and have demanded a replacement vehicle and crew to enable them to get out on the ground again. That is the true definition of teamwork, and the meaning of living a life of true purpose. This is the indomitable spirit that sets these men and women apart from much of society back home, and elevates them above those who seek only personal comfort or reward, or those who seek to point ou! t what h as or what may have gone wrong.

The work being done to provide the security for the reconstruction and growth of Afghanistan is being done by the finest men and women that the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth can provide. Most people at home don’t know their names, or have their photos on their wall, but everyone can depend on them. It is due to their commitment and selfless courage that things are improving for ordinary Afghan people, and will continue to do so.

By Lieutenant Colonel Paul James CO 40 Commando Royal Marine

It has been an immensely hard week for 40 Commando, and though we mark the loss of 3 irreplaceable men, we will not break stride. We owe it to the sacrifice these brave Marines have made to remain entirely focused on our mission; to protect the people of Sangin in partnership with the Afghan army - and we shall.

The Taliban cannot win as they offer only violence and intimidation, and the people of Sangin know it. Even in the most pro-Taliban of areas there is only 20% support for their cause. It is slow, hard and often painful but we are making progress here. There are well over twice as many shops in the Sangin bazaar than this time last year and there is irreversible momentum being achieved in the areas of governance and development.

40 Commando remain absolutely resolute. To be morose, to be introspective, and to doubt is to give ground to our enemy. If we are anything other than ruthless in our pursuit we will lose. As Commandos we are familiar with adversity, with the need to endure and to maintain our mental fortitude. We will prevail in Sangin.

Gen Petraeus faces confirmation to lead Afghan war

Gen David Petraeus has indicated to a Senate committee that the security situation in Afghanistan is "tenuous".

He is before the Senate Armed Services Committee after being nominated by President Obama to lead the war.

Gen Petraeus said he supports the president's plan to begin withdrawing troops in July 2011, but emphasised it is the "beginning of a process".

He also said he would assess the rules of engagement which have come under intense criticism in recent days.

"My sense is that the tough fighting will continue; indeed, it may get more intense in the next few months," he said.

In written answers to the committee, he said insurgents were "resilient and still-confident".

Gen Stanley McChrystal, the former US commander in Afghanistan, was fired last week by President Obama.

The general was dismissed after criticising senior US administration officials in a Rolling Stone magazine profile. He has since announced his retirement from the US Army.

For the full article click here for BBC News Online

Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick of 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal), part of the Counter-IED Task Force, was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 27 June 2010.

Corporal Kirkpatrick was attached to the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, part of the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force, and was killed in a small arms fire engagement with insurgent forces in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand province.

Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick

Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick was 32 years of age. He was born in Edinburgh but lived in Llanelli in South Wales.

He enlisted in the Corps of Royal Engineers in September 1997 and following training as a Combat Engineer and trade training as a Plant Operator Mechanic, he was posted to 28 Engineer Regiment in Hameln, Germany.

Over the next six years in Germany he qualified as a Class 1 Plant Operator Mechanic, promoted to Lance Corporal and deployed to Iraq on Operation TELIC as a Plant Section Second-in-Command.

After a spell at the Land Warfare Centre in Warminster he was promoted to Corporal in 2006.

A tour as a Corporal instructor at the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham quickly followed and in 2009 he was posted to 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) where he successfully gained his Intermediate Explosive Ordnance Disposal qualification.

In April 2010 he volunteered for a tour of Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 12, just as his Squadron was transferred to 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal).

He was attached back to 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) for the deployment to Afghanistan.

Corporal Kirkpatrick was a member of the Joint Force Explosive Ordnance Disposal Group, part of the Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force.

His role was as the Number 2 in a Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Team, supporting the Bomb Disposal Operator.

In Afghanistan he and his team started the tour in Lashkar Gah helping to increase the security of the area by disposing of Improvised Explosive Device constituent parts brought in by the Afghan National Police.

In May 2010 he deployed to Kajaki in the Sangin District of Helmand Province to work with 40 Commando Royal Marines Battle Group and played a large part in increasing the freedom of movement for the local Afghans by removing Improvised Explosive Devices from key routes as well as conducting life-saving training to members of the Battle Group.

Most recently the team moved to support the 1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles Battle Group, Combined Force Nahr-E Saraj (South).

On the evening of 27 June 2010, Corporal Kirkpatrick and his team were being held in reserve whilst a clearance operation was being carried out in order to increase security to an area around one of the Check Points.

Corporal Kirkpatrick and his team were extracting from a compound to move back to Check Point KINGSHILL when the team came under attack from Insurgent small arms fire.

A single round hit Corporal Kirkpatrick and despite immediate first aid he was sadly killed in action. He leaves behind his wife Heidi and their daughter Holly.

Corporal Kirkpatrick's family paid the following tribute:

"Jamie was a larger than life individual who was loved, loyal and loud. A wonderful son. He was a proud soldier, friend, brother, husband and Daddy.

"The family are devastated by their loss and are struggling to come to terms with the fact they will never see him again."

Lieutenant Colonel David Southall MBE Royal Engineers, Commanding Officer Counter-Improvised Explosive Device Task Force said:

"Corporal Jamie Kirkpatrick, or 'KP' to his mates, was a robust, humorous and professional Royal Engineer.

"A Plant Operator Mechanic by trade, Corporal Kirkpatrick sought excitement, variety and challenge in his military career at every turn and no-one was surprised when he stepped up to train in an Explosive Ordnance Disposal role.

"Deployed in the deadly fight against the Improvised Explosive Device threat, his diligence, coolness under pressure and total confidence in his abilities always shone through and his actions undoubtedly saved lives in Afghanistan.

"KP was also a natural team player; always keen for a laugh, his irrepressible optimism made him incredibly popular within our tight-knit Counter-Improvised Explosive Device community.

"His greatest passion in life, however, was his family. My heart goes out to his wife, Heidi and very young daughter, Holly, whose loss is unimaginable.

"KP died doing something he loved, working to save the lives of others and liberate Afghanistan from the Improvised Explosive Device threat – his sacrifice will not be forgotten."

Lieutenant Colonel Aidan Smyth TD Royal Engineers, Commanding Officer 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) said:

"Corporal Kirkpatrick's talent was quickly recognised: he passed his Junior Non-Commissioned Officer's Cadre in 2001 and was immediately promoted to Lance Corporal before being further promoted to Corporal in 2006.

"Initially posted to 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) as a Plant Operator, he recognised the importance of the fight against Improvised Explosive Devices in Afghanistan and volunteered for training as an Explosive Ordnance Disposal Number 2.

"Corporal Kirkpatrick was an extremely professional soldier, an example to others and it is devastating that he should lose his life whilst doing the job he loved.

"Our thoughts are with his wife Heidi and his young daughter Holly on their tragic loss.

"Corporal Kirkpatrick will be sorely missed but always remembered by all ranks in 101 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)."

Life abroad in the British forces

Servicemen, women and veterans are being honoured in events around Britain on the first Armed Forces Day. It is a chance for people to raise a flag to show they are appreciated. The BBC caught up with serving men and women posted to far-flung destinations around the world.

from BBC online

Staff Sergeant Grant Mcfall, Afghanistan

Staff Sgt Grant McFall is a Royal Engineer who works as part of the reconstruction and development team in the provincial capital of Helmand Province for 522 Support Group Royal Engineers.

Staff Sgt McFall. "The Afghan contractors are keen to learn"

He said, from his point of view, things were "really progressing" in Helmand: "We do all kinds of reconstruction, from schools to mosques, and we get contractors in, and do everything from tenders to project managing - the whole life cycle of a construction site.

"We go out on patrol with the infantry and close protection team, and mentor the civilian contractors and try to bring them up to British standards. They're top class, the Afghan contractors, very keen to learn.

"The contractors I've worked with at Lashkar Gah are keen to work with Isaf [International Security Assistance Force]. However, when we turn up on a construction site, we only have 10 minutes of walking around the site because if we do get noticed, it could jeopardise the contractors' well-being, being seen to work with Isaf forces.

"But there are more projects than there have been in the past. I've been out here three months, and have around 16 construction projects here. When Isaf first came out, they were mainly doing smaller cash projects. Now we are overseeing the construction of a new jail in the province, costing £1.6m

"I have three months left of this tour. I did my clerk of works construction course, and I've been thrown straight into the deep end here. I love it. It's a dream come true - this job is brilliant.

"On this Armed Forces Day, I'll be out on patrol on Lashkar Gah keeping an eye on the construction sites. My wife's a nurse in Nottingham, which keeps her busy, and my son Kian, who is two and a half, will be at nursery.

"I think that having an Armed Forces day is a great idea. I don't think the British Army gets enough acknowledgement of what we're doing out here."

Life returns to Kajaki village thanks to ISAF and ANP forces

After almost half-a-decade of being abandoned and desolate, life is beginning to return to a village at the foot of the Kajaki Dam in Helmand province thanks to the presence of British, American and local Afghan National Police (ANP) forces.

Tangye bakers knead dough on a broken wooden door in the village bakery to meet fresh local demand

The village of Tangye, at the foot of the strategically-important Kajaki Dam, has stood empty for nearly five years, its people driven out by the Taliban.

Motorcycle and car parts, personal possessions and household goods are strewn in the streets in front of crumbling shop fronts with bent and twisted shutters, implying the people of Tangye left in a hurry.

But thanks to the presence of British, and now American, boots on the ground, and a very strong Afghan National Police presence, people are beginning to trickle back to Tangye.

There is a bakery in town again. For the moment it only has two families as customers but it is selling to the Afghan National Police and ISAF troops too:

"We've told ourselves we'll give it a year. It's fine for the moment. No one bothers us," said the baker, Mohammed Bilal, as he kneaded dough on a broken wooden door.

The local police chief, Haji Faizullah, is the reason the baker can be so optimistic.

His force of 48 officers is making heroic efforts to secure the town against an ever-present Taliban threat.

They are spread across five bases and checkpoints, not just protecting Tangye but also a number of outlying villages:

"We patrol every night until morning while ISAF troops keep watch from the hills," said Police Chief Faizullah.

"This is to keep the enemy away. It is very green around here, with lots of trees and undergrowth, so if we don't patrol they can creep closer."

Two young Tangye locals stop to talk with a Royal Marine

One man who has come back to join the fight to protect Tangye is Khalid Wal. He had a tailoring shop in the bazaar until five years ago when he and his family were forced to flee:

"I have signed as a policeman for three years. If the bazaar reopens and the other business people come back then I will reopen my shop," he said.

Another local named Ishmatullah has moved his family back to Tangye.

He said the Taliban came to his farm last year and burned all his crops without giving him any explanation. After enduring years of intimidation he and his wife returned to their former home with 13 members of their family:

"We came quietly in the night," said Ishmatullah. "The Taliban didn't know we were leaving. We feel a lot safer here."

He is now waiting to go to police training college in Lashkar Gah so he can officially be registered as a member of the ANP.

In the last couple of weeks Abdul Satar has also sought refuge in Tangye with his wife and three children. He too will go to train in Lashkar Gah, adding another name to the police chief's roll:

"We put ourselves in danger because of our country, because of our families and because of our location," said policeman Mirajan.

His colleague, Abdel Rashid, added:

"The Taliban are very cruel people and it is because of this that I put my life in danger, to support my family."

Police Chief Faizullah, who was born and grew up in the town, and has spent all his career in Tangye, said:

"Before the Taliban came the bazaar was open and business was thriving with 200 shops. There was a cattle market and people would come from all around.

"It is my ambition that it will be like that again but we do need more government resources if we are to be able to drive the Taliban away for good."

Sergeant Major John Brown, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, is one of the reasons the ANP in Tangye is so strong.

He has been attached to 40 Commando as one of the police mentors since February, joining the policemen of Tangye on patrol and teaching them first aid skills and counter-IED methods.

Glad to be home: Afghan villagers Abdul Satar and Ishmatullah with Tangye police chief, Haji Faizullah

He is not looking forward to leaving the men he now counts as his friends to train other police officers elsewhere, but he does acknowledge that they need him less now:

"They're very professional, very proactive," he said. "A lot of the time they don't ask for ISAF support, they just go out themselves in the early hours of the morning, patrolling regularly through the towns.

"They are not told to, they just do it. The Chief of Police is quite proactive in pushing them out as far as he can get them safely. They keep the locals that are here safe."

ISAF troops can walk the streets of Tangye safely now. As well as the ANP on the ground, they have the whole area under surveillance for miles around from their patrol bases in the hills.

In recent weeks it has been British and American Marines, side by side, but the British are now preparing to hand over responsibility for the area to allow them to reinforce troop numbers in Sangin.

British forces have already handed over responsibility for security in the town of Kajaki to US forces.

While securing the dam is essential given it provides a large proportion of the electricity for Helmand and Kandahar provinces, securing the slowly returning population of Tangye and all the villages around it is the priority now.

The Afghans are going to need aid and reconstruction projects to pick up the pieces if they are going to provide the next generation with a viable future.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Our Mission in Afghanistan

We must build an Afghanistan strong enough to resist terrorism.

Soldiers of A Company of the1st Battalion Royal Gurkha Rifles preparing for a patrol at their patrol base in a Nahr e Saraj village, in Helmand, on June 22, 2010. Image: Getty Images

By Liam Fox, Secretary of State for Defence for The Wall Street Journal

In each generation, there are moments of history that people remember vividly. Some such moments are confined to national experience—in Britain, the death of Princess Diana, or the resignation of Margaret Thatcher—but some have a global impact.

On Sept. 11, 2001, I was in the House of Commons in London. I watched on television as the second plane smashed into the South Tower. My disbelief turned to horror. This was not an accident, but a well planned and executed attack against a highly symbolic target. Not an attack against individuals, and not against the United States alone, but against all free peoples. The smouldering ruins of the World Trade Center marked the graves of more than 2,500 people. The carnage did not discriminate between nationality, color or creed. It changed the lives of thousands of families and it changed the way political leaders saw the world.

In Afghanistan today, the NATO-led operations are a direct consequence of 9/11, with troops from 46 countries, including 9,500 British forces. The Taliban gave al Qaeda sanctuary and allowed it to run terrorist training camps from Afghanistan. Now, though driven out of power, reduced and under considerable pressure, al Qaeda and their backers in the Taliban continue to pose a real threat on both sides of the border with Pakistan.

Afghanistan is where the will of the international community is being tested and it is where the sacrifice continues to be significant. The brunt is being borne by America, but there are grieving families in countries across the coalition.

It is understandable that our democratic societies question whether the sacrifice is worth it. We need to be clear about our objectives, and clear about how we will achieve them. We must not confuse the reason we are in Afghanistan—to deny terrorists a safe haven—with the way in which we will succeed: building an Afghanistan that is strong enough to resist on its own.

We must remember that Afghanistan, just as Iraq, is not a classic war of attrition—this is counter-insurgency, and it will not be won by military means alone. There is no group of commanders sitting patiently in a tent awaiting a delegation under a white flag offering a formal surrender.

This is about reducing the threat to a level that the Afghan government can manage on its own, without the risk to the outside world that we saw graphically at 9/11. Our mission is focused on creating a stable enough system of security and governance to achieve this.

With Pakistani forces bearing down on terrorists and extremists on their side, al Qaeda and their Taliban supporters are taking a considerable hit. As the forces of the coalition surge and the Afghan National Security Forces grow and become more effective, the challenge is being taken into the remaining strongholds of the Taliban-led insurgency. But our opponents are determined, motivated and adaptable. They will continue to test themselves against the surge in international troop numbers, seeking to prove their relevance and resilience. We can expect ground to be contested across Afghanistan, and, sadly, we can also expect more casualties across the coalition.

We must hold our nerve and maintain our resilience. If we want people to pay the price of success, we must spell out the cost of failure. If NATO left Afghanistan now, the Taliban would wrest control of parts of the country and al-Qaeda and their terrorist training camps could return. It would be a shot in the arm to violent extremists everywhere. Instability could spread across this volatile region. Failure would also damage the credibility of NATO, which has been the cornerstone of the defense of the West for the past half-century. We would be less safe and less secure, our resolve called into question and our cohesion weakened.

In the capitals of the coalition, we must recognize that tactical set-backs are not strategic defeats; that progress will be incremental, where there are more good days than bad; and that our impatience to see our troops come home should be subservient to the needs of national security.

As a coalition we need to have clear messages for the Afghan people, and those messages need to be communicated by our deeds as well as our words. We are neither colonizers nor occupiers. We are not in Afghanistan to create a carbon copy of a Western democracy, and we are not there to convert the people to Western ways. We seek government of Afghanistan by the Afghans themselves. We insist only that it does not pose a security threat to our interests or allies.

American and Britain have stood shoulder to shoulder many times in the past, in the face of tyranny and adversity—in defense of freedom. Today in Afghanistan we stand shoulder to shoulder again, alongside our many partners and alongside the Afghans themselves. The struggle against terrorism endures and is bigger than any single country or any single leader, political or military. In the long shadow of 9/11, only united will we prevail.

Bombardier Stephen Gildert dies of wounds sustained in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Bombardier Stephen Raymond Gilbert, from 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, died in hospital in Birmingham on 26 June 2010 of wounds sustained in Afghanistan.

Bombardier Stephen Raymond Gilbert

Bombardier Stephen Gilbert was 36 years old and joined the Army in August 1999.

He enlisted into the Royal Artillery and was posted to 6/36 Battery, 40th Regiment Royal Artillery (The Lowland Gunners) based in Topcliffe, North Yorkshire.

Bombardier Gilbert started his career in the gun group before re-roling to become an Observation Post Assistant, working on the front line in a Fire Support Team and deploying to Kosovo in 2001. He then deployed to Iraq in 2003 and again in March 2005 as part of an infantry ground holding multiple.

His vigour, professionalism and dedication shone through and he was selected to become an instructor at the Army Foundation College at Harrogate. Bombardier Gilbert typified the ideal instructor; dynamic, proficient and with an infectious sense of humour which motivated the young recruits.

If ever there was a role model for young soldiers to emulate it was him.

In January 2010, Bombardier Gilbert was posted to 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, which had replaced 40th Regiment Royal Artillery in Topcliffe.

He joined 88 (Arracan) Battery during Mission Specific Training as a Fire Support Team Assistant and deployed to Afghanistan in March 2010 in support of G Company, 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) based in Forward Operating Base Khar Nikah in Nahr-e Saraj (North) operating under the Danish Battlegroup.

Bombardier Gilbert has spent the last three months in the region providing security to the local population, preventing insurgent intimidation and supporting the Afghan National Army.

He was on a joint patrol with the Afghan National Army on the afternoon of 10 June 2010 when he was injured by an explosion.

He was transferred to the New Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, where he sadly died of his wounds on the afternoon of 26 June 2010.

He leaves behind his wife Jackie and sons Connor and Kristian.

Jackie Gilbert has made the following statement:

"We as a family are so proud of Steve and everything he believed in. He was a fantastic father and Connor and Kristian has not only lost their dad but their best friend.

"Steve was a devoted husband and we lived and laughed everyday we shared. I do truly believe I was lucky enough to find my true soul mate.

"Steve will always be in my heart and will live on through his family and many close friends. Rest in peace my darling; I love you so much."

Lieutenant Colonel Chris Squier, Commanding Officer 4th Regiment Royal Artillery said:

"Bombardier Stephen Gilbert was a rising star. A fit, robust Scotsman, he was a man of great compassion and moral purpose.

"His family were everything to him. He and his wife Jackie were central to life at our home in Topcliffe.

"His loss has had deep and profound reverberations across the Regiment and our local community.

"As a soldier he was the epitome of the Gunner Fire Support Team Assistant. Knowledgeable enough to teach and mentor his team, strong enough to support his commander, fearless enough to lead them in the fight, courageous enough to lift his head from the ditch and call for fire and compassionate enough to treat his team as his own family; men like him are truly rare.

"He fought for the final days of his life as he had lived; with true passion and spirit. He never woke from the blast that so cruelly took him from us and he sadly passed away with his wife Jackie by his side. My thoughts go to her, their sons Connor and Kristian, his parents Ray and Helen and his brother and sisters.

"Theirs is the true loss we can only imagine; he will remain always, Forever Fourth."

Football Fever on The Front Line

Today was to be D-Day for the English football team in South Africa, but out in Afghanistan, every day is D-Day for the British troops helping bring governance and security to Helmand.

Luckily those fortunate enough not to be on duty had the chance to watch our footballers in action at a variety of locations throughout the Province.

Troops in Camp Bastion get into the spirit early in the match

In Lashkar Gar, home to the Headquarters of Task Force Helmand (TFH), the men of 1st Battalion The Scots Guards and 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire), as well as other military personnel from all parts of the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force, came together to watch the match on a big-screen TV and show their enthusiasm for the great game.

Members of TFH in Lashkar Gar watch the game on an improvised big screen

Lance Bombardier Terry Eaves of 4th Regiment Royal artillery said at half time “England always play better in the second half so the Germans should be worried. I think we’ll get a couple more in the second half.” Sadly that wasn’t to be the case.

With support for both sides strongly evident amongst the crowd, emotions ran high throughout the night. Nevertheless a great time was had by all, despite the night time temperatures being well into the 30’s and the wrong result for the English.

Captain James Ogglesby, part of the Joint Media Operations Centre from Camp Bastion commented that “England are a bit up and down at the moment; good in front but weaker at the back, they really need to tighten up and stopping making mistakes.”

However as the game slowly went downhill for England, so did the hopes and support of those the England troops watching the game.

Troops look on in anguish as Germany score again

Corporal Kirk Delaney was devastated. “I really thought we could pull it out of the bag. But Rooney wasn’t anywhere near his normal standard. And why wasn’t Crouchy on instead of Defoe? He’s scored every time he comes on. I can’t understand Cappello’s thinking.

Despite the only cold beer available being cans of the alcohol-free variety, the atmosphere was nonetheless friendly and offered a good opportunity for the troops to grab a bit of down time and relax. Roll on the Euro 2012 Championships in Poland.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Army chief says talks with Taliban should start soon

BBC News online 27 June 2010

The head of the British army believes politicians and military chiefs should talk to members of the Taliban sooner rather than later.

Gen Sir David Richards said that in every counter-insurgency campaign, there was "always a point which you start to negotiate with each other".

Nineteen British personnel have died this month, with 10 deaths in the past nine days.

David Cameron has said he wants UK troops out within five years.

Not giving up

Negotiation with moderate elements of the Taliban is likely to form an important part of future coalition strategy.

General Stanley McChrystal, fired last week as commander of multi-national forces, said there needed to be more engagement with those whose main motivation was financial, rather than ideological.

And at the London Conference on Afghanistan in January, plans were announced for an international fund to help integrate the Taliban back into civilian life.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's The World This Weekend, Gen Richards said it was his personal belief that talking to the Taliban should happen "pretty soon".

"If you look at any counter-insurgency campaign throughout history there's always a point at which you start to negotiate with each other, probably through proxies in the first instance, and I don't know when that will happen," he said.

"From my own, and this is a purely private view, I think there's no reason why we shouldn't be looking at that sort of thing pretty soon.
'Maximum pressure'

"But at the same time you've got to continue the work we're doing on the military, governance and development perspectives to make sure they don't think we're giving up. It's a concurrent process and they're both equally important"

But Sir Richard Dannatt, a former head of the Army, told the BBC's Andrew Marr that the military must put "maximum pressure" on the Taliban to clear them out of Afghanistan.

Referring to the PM's comments about troop withdrawal, Sir Richard said it was important the Taliban were not able to "sit out" the time until international forces left their country.

He said counter-insurgency operations "always take time" and it was important the military effort was properly resourced and given political support.

To read this on the BBC website click here

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Latest counter-IED equipment showcased

Tackling the threat from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was top of the agenda at the MOD's Defence Equipment and Support showcase event, Defence Vehicle Dynamics (DVD), this year.

Report by Sharon Kean.

Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technolgy, Peter Luff, tries out a hand-held metal detector

New Minister for Defence Equipment, Support and Technology, Peter Luff, formally opened this year's show at the Millbrook vehicle testing ground in Bedfordshire.

Mr Luff was then given a demonstration of some of the latest counter-IED (C-IED) equipment being used by British troops and met soldiers who had survived IED blasts thanks to the heavily armoured vehicles in which they were travelling.

Speaking at the event he said:

"Tackling the IED threat is vital for us to make military progress. C-IED is not just about the bomb disposal expert defusing a bomb, vital and dangerous though that role is. It is about making sure that our soldiers have a range of tools, tactics and techniques available to them."

The Talon remote-controlled robot forms part of the latest counter-IED technology

Mr Luff was given a guided tour of the five pieces of equipment that make up Talisman, the newest military solution to the IED problem.

The five elements consist of two enormous armoured vehicles, a JCB digger, a bomb disposal robot and a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle).

The Talisman system is currently being used by Royal Engineers to clear and build safe routes around Helmand province in Afghanistan.

A Mastiff armoured vehicle and its crew act as Talisman's eyes, with video screens inside the rear compartment of the truck displaying aerial video footage gathered by a Honeywell T-Hawk UAV.

A Buffalo mine protection vehicle with a rummaging arm

Another armoured vehicle known as Buffalo has a remote-controlled, extendable, pronged arm attached to the front, which is used to comb or 'rummage' the ground, detecting signs of IEDs.

The JCB digger is used to fill in ditches or potholes that might prevent soldiers or vehicles from moving forward and the Talon remote-controlled robot gives troops the safer option of remaining out of harm's way when trying to deal with any devices they find.

Group Captain Paul Ridge, the head of the Military Manouevre Support Team that spent around 18 months developing the Talisman system, said the aim was to enable soldiers to move around the battlefield more easily:

"It's a range of equipment that has been brought together to make a system which allows early detection and the choice of either avoiding or destroying the IED.

"It can be used on its own or in support of other vehicles. And the whole system can be operated from under armour. It's just one part of the contribution towards counter-IED."

Soldiers from 1st Battalion The Royal Welsh who survived two IED blasts in two days while in Afghanistan met the minister and described how the heavily armoured vehicles in which they were traveling probably saved their lives.

Fusilier Danny Hughes, who was traveling in one vehicle when it hit a roadside bomb, said:

"The Mastiff is worth its weight in gold. The second time it happened there weren't any injuries either, it was almost a case of 'here we go again', that's another few hours until we can have a cup of tea."

The battle to beat the IEDs is the driving force behind an MOD contract for a tranche of 200 new Light Protected Patrol Vehicles.

Two companies, SupaCat and Force Protection Europe, are competing for the contract and displayed prototype models of what they hope will be the next generation of Light Protected Patrol Vehicles (LPPVs).

An armoured vehicle tackles the rumble strips at the Millbrook vehicle testing ground in Bedfordshire

The vehicles will be used for a variety of patrols and so must be tough enough to cope with cross-country terrain, but also enable the troops inside to engage with the local people they encounter in more urban areas.

General Sir Kevin O'Donoghue, Chief of Defence Materiel and the Head of Defence Equipment and Support, said:

"As well as its protection against blasts, the LPPV must be able to operate in the harsh conditions of the desert and tight urban environments."

Mr Luff added:

"We will agree a contract for an initial tranche of 200 vehicles under an Urgent Operational Requirement funded from the Treasury Reserve later this year."

The first batch of vehicles is required for training by the end of 2011.

At the DVD event Mr Luff also announced a contract for more than 140 extra Jackal 2A weapons-mounted patrol vehicles in a deal worth about £45m, bringing the number of Jackal vehicles for Defence to over 500, and an extra 28 Wolfhound heavy tactical support vehicles under a £20m deal.

Meanwhile, the MOD is reducing the weight troops on the front line carry with improvements to current and future infantry combat and support kit.

Currently, the average weight of equipment carried by an infantryman is around 66kg, but innovative weight-saving schemes have shaved more than 4.5kg from this. New kit being delivered in October could reduce this by a further 8kg. Measures implemented include:

* trials of new lightweight patrol rations for troops in the field that weigh less than 1kg, compared with a 24-hour ration pack that weighs around 3kg;
* new longer-life batteries to power radios and other equipment; and
* a new battery recharging system which reduces the number of spare batteries required.

After inspecting some of the equipment at the annual DVD event and talking to soldiers and suppliers, Minister for International Security Strategy, Gerald Howarth, said:

"While the modern combat soldier is better equipped than ever before, this has brought about its own challenges - mainly an increase in the weight being carried.

The new ration pack for troops will be 2kg lighter than the current 24-hour pack

"The welfare of our troops is paramount and so the work being carried out here to reduce this burden is essential to both the physical and mental well-being of our troops fighting on the front line in what can be 50-degree temperatures. The other improvements announced today are a further demonstration of our determination to equip our forces on the front line with the kit they need."

A newly-formed project team, - the Integrated Soldier System Executive, based at Defence Equipment and Support in Bristol, has been leading on the work to reduce the weight carried on the front line.

Along with lightening a soldier's load, the welfare of personnel operating in remote locations is being improved through increasing the number of e-bluey computer terminals to enable them to communicate with loved ones and installing more showers, sinks and toilets in forward operating bases. The new ablutions facilities will be sent to Afghanistan later this year.

Pictures: Andrew Linnett

US forces move into Kajaki as Royal Marines increase presence in Sangin

ISAF has today announced that British forces in Afghanistan have handed responsibility for security in the town of Kajaki in northern Helmand province to US forces.

Soldiers from 3rd Battalion The Rifles aboard an assault boat on Kajaki's lake earlier this year

The reconfiguration, ordered by ISAF commanders, is part of an ongoing rebalancing of troops following the uplift of coalition forces in Helmand province and will better support the strategy of winning over the civilian population by protecting them from Taliban insurgents.

ISAF force numbers in Helmand have increased from around 10,000 to 30,000 in recent months - in addition to 10,000 members of the Afghan National Security Forces.

The change in command and control in this area will mean that UK forces who have been based in Kajaki can now be released to turn their attention to other high priority tasks.

Around 150 UK personnel, mainly part of the 40 Commando Battle Group, will now redeploy to thicken and deepen the British presence in Sangin.

This will allow them to continue work to improve security in Sangin to better protect the population while accelerating the growth of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF).

Soldiers from 3rd Battalion The Rifles patrol Kajaki's lake in northern Helmand province

Major General Gordon Messenger said:

"British forces are redeploying from Kajaki with their heads held high with the knowledge that they have changed the area for the better.

"The increased security that they have provided in partnership with Afghan personnel has allowed vital work to take place on the Kajaki Dam. More access to power will mean that facilities and businesses continue to grow and local people can get back to the business of farming their lands.

"US forces are now ready to build on this work and ensure that further progress is made in Kajaki."

The security that Afghan and UK forces, working in partnership, have provided in Kajaki in the past four years has allowed the refurbishment of a hydroelectric turbine at the Kajaki Dam, providing vital power to areas of Lashkar Gah, Musa Qal'ah and Sangin.

As a result, local health services, education and trade have been boosted by the increase in the amount of power provided to schools, clinics, government offices and local businesses.

In addition, ANSF and UK forces have been driving the insurgents away from the population centres, making local people safer and allowing them to go about their business free from Taliban intimidation.

The announcement was made in a briefing to the media in the MOD's Main Building in London; also addressing the press was Major General Richard Mills, US 1st Marine Division commander and commander of the new Regional Command (South West) in Helmand province.

In addition to the force transfer in Kajaki, Major General Mills spoke of the wider force laydown changes and praised the achievements made by British forces so far.

A patrol by the 40 Commando Police Mentoring Troop from Forward Operating Base Jackson in Sangin

Major General Mills said:

"On preparation for becoming an independent regional command, the UK brigade under Brigadier Felton came under our command and I'm going to say that for me it's an honour to have them as part of this force; they bring with them a magnificent record of accomplishments within the very key districts of the central valley and the very tough but critical assignments in Sangin and Kajaki Dam.

"Their performance has been nothing short of magnificent.

"I believe that progress made by the UK forces within the very vital central river valley area and against significant opposition has been remarkable and has clearly shaped conditions for future transition of security responsibility back to the Afghan authorities.

"The central Helmand river valley is our centre of effort, the centre of my attention, and will remain so in the months ahead.

"What happens there influences conditions throughout Helmand province and conditions in the Kandahar area. It's key ground. The bulk of the 1.5 million residents of the Helmand province live there.

"That is where the UK forces are mainly based. And look for progress to continue there and to expand in the months ahead."

Focusing on Sangin Major General Mills said that a high price had been paid by British forces for progress in the area but that progress was being made and troops were focused on the mission in hand:

"We are consistently pushing out further and further in the district centre," he said, "providing more and more security and consistently separating the insurgents from the local population.

A Royal Marine from 40 Commando on patrol in Sangin

"Let me repeat how impressed I've been with [what] the UK forces have accomplished to date throughout the zone.

"Again they hold much of the key ground within our battle space; they have supported critical economic and governmental development within our key districts and they have partnered extraordinarily well with the Afghan security forces and raised the capability of those forces significantly.

"Now truth be told there's still much hard fighting left to do, and there's still improvement to be made in Afghan security capacity, but progress is steady.

"Our troops are the best in the world. They operate extraordinarily well in the coalition environment. They naturally function as part of a team. They partner well with local forces, both the police and the army, and they embrace their Afghan counterparts as fellow warriors.

"The troops within this command understand the mission. Their motivation remains high. They understand the price they sometimes have to pay. But they are mission-focused."

RAF helicopter crews train for Afghanistan in Jordanian desert

Royal Air Force helicopter crews have been training in the Jordanian desert for the first time in preparation for operations in Afghanistan and to develop relations with the Royal Jordanian Air Force.

A Chinook is accompanied by two Merlin helicopters during Exercise Desert Vortex

Over 300 personnel from RAF Benson and RAF Odiham, many preparing to go to Afghanistan for the first time, took part in Exercise Desert Vortex in Jordan.

Wing Commander John Watson was the Detachment Commander during the month-long exercise at King Faisal Air Base near Amman.

He said: "This is the first bilateral training exercise between the Royal Jordanian Air Force and elements of our Joint Helicopter Force. We have had six Chinooks from RAF Odiham and three Merlins from RAF Benson, along with aircrew, engineers and support staff from the two stations.

"There were three main reasons to use Jordan; to develop relationships with their Air Force, to carry out pre-deployment training for Afghanistan and to provide environmental training in realistic and similar conditions to those we will face on operations."

A Merlin crew practises night flying with underslung loads during Exercise Desert Vortex

For many of the newly-qualified pilots, this was the first time they had experienced flying in desert conditions.

Chinook pilot Flying Officer Tom Knapp has recently joined 18 Squadron at RAF Odiham and is due to deploy in August. He said:

"You can't replicate these conditions in the UK. The thin air means the engines and aircraft have to work much harder, and the dust and humidity out here are very similar to that which we will face in Afghanistan, making this a great training opportunity.

"I am a little bit apprehensive but at the same time I am really looking forward to actually getting out there and doing the job that I have been trained to do.

"I'm keeping an open mind about what I might find out in Afghanistan - from what I have heard it will be challenging and I know I will be faced with things I haven't experienced before. But I love handling the Chinook. In particular I enjoy the dust landings, and working with the crew and engineers."

For pilots to complete a dust landing they rely on the assistance of the rear crew - the loadmasters - such as Sergeant Rebecca Nicholls from 18 Squadron.

Sergeant Rebecca Nicholls, a loadmaster from 18 Squadron

Sergeant Nicholls explained:

"Dust landings are when we come into an area where the pilots can lose sight of references on the ground - the dust cloud envelopes the whole of the aircraft, making it difficult for the pilots to see.

"We become the pilot's eyes; we tell them how far off the ground we are, and whether there is any danger to be aware of."

Sergeant Nicholls also explained the role of a loadmaster:

"Basically we are in charge of anything that goes on in the back - troops coming on or off, freight carried inside or beneath the helicopter, and we also assist the pilots in navigating.

Merlin practising operating with underslung loads

"Underslung loads are when we carry a load underneath - the pilots are looking out the front, they can't see what's going on beneath the aircraft, so we are essentially a 'satellite navigation' system for them; we tell them where they need to be above the load, whether they are too high, too low, if they need to come right or left a bit."

In the last three years Sergeant Nicholls has already clocked up three winter tours in Afghanistan, and will be going out this year during the summer:

"Going to Afghanistan has become normal for me now; it's become part of my life. I know that every ten months I'll be going out for two months, but I enjoy my job - it's active and interesting," she said.

Alongside the Chinook crews were 90 instructors, aircrew and engineers from RAF Benson.

Squadron Leader Mark Biggadike from 78 Squadron oversaw the Merlin Force part of the exercise:

"We've been training Merlin pilots and crewmen who have never operated in a desert before," he said.

"It's quite a step up for the new guys, they have come straight out of training onto the Merlin Force, and this is their first time operating the aircraft in these kinds of conditions.

"At a higher altitude the air is thinner, and it's hot, so training to fly in Jordan is invaluable. Learning how to land in dust clouds and fly at night in very low light conditions are areas we have been concentrating on.

"As a result of this exercise in Jordan we now have another team of environmentally-qualified aircrew who will be ready for deployment to Afghanistan. During their time in Jordan, the Merlins have clocked up in excess of 230 flying hours, and carried out more than 900 dust landings - the training has gone very well."

Pictures: SAC Neil Chapman & SAC Andy Masson RAF

Friday, June 25, 2010

VIDEO: Afghanistan: PM Wants Troops Out By 2015

Sky News report

David Cameron has told Sky News that he wants British troops out of Afghanistan within five years.

He is in Canada for his first G8 summit, where he is meeting other world leaders including President Barack Obama to discuss issues such as the economic crisis, the BP oil spill and Afghanistan.

It has been a particularly bloody month for British troops in the war-hit country.

The deaths of four soldiers in a vehicle accident earlier in the week meant the total number of UK fatalities this month stands at 18, the worst since last August.

The most killed in a month came last July when 22 died when the Panther’s Claw operation was under way.

The total number of British dead in Afghanistan now stands at 307 since 2001.

Asked by Sky's political editor Adam Boulton whether the 10,000-strong deployment would be home by the next general election - scheduled for 2015 - the Prime Minister said: "I want that to happen.

"We cannot be there for another five years having effectively been there for nine years already.

"But Britain should have a long-term relationship with Afghanistan, including helping to train their troops and their civil society long after the vast bulk of (our) troops have gone."

Mr Obama has set out a timetable under which the "surge" of US troops ordered last year would lead to withdrawals from the middle of 2011.

But Mr Cameron has so far refused to commit himself to any deadline for British troops to come home, saying only that he does not believe they should stay a day longer than is necessary.

Discussing Mr Obama's preference for beginning a drawdown around July next year, Mr Cameron said: "I prefer not to see it in strict timetables.

"I want us to roll up our sleeves and get on with delivering what will bring the success we want."

He said this would not be "a perfect Afghanistan, but some stability in Afghanistan and the ability for the Afghans themselves to run their country so they can come home."

Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton, Lance Corporal David Ramsden, Private Alex Isaac and Private Douglas Halliday killed in Afghanistan

It is with sadness that the Ministry of Defence must confirm that Colour Sergeant Martyn Simon Horton, Private Douglas Niall Halliday, Private Alex Isaac and Lance Corporal David Andrew Ramsden were killed in a vehicle incident near Gereshk, Helmand Province, on 23 June 2010.

The soldiers were part of a Police Advisory Team, travelling as part of a two vehicle convoy tasked to attend an incident at a nearby Check Point when the vehicle rolled into the waterway.

Colour Sergeant Martyn Simon Horton

Colour Sergeant Martyn Horton was 34 years old and from Runcorn. He enlisted into the Army in 1992 and joined the 1st Battalion The 22nd (Cheshire) Regiment.

He has served in the United Kingdom, Cyprus, The Falkland Islands, Belize and Kenya, and on operations in Northern Ireland, Iraq and Afghanistan. Promoted to Colour Sergeant in June 2009 he assumed the role of Reconnaissance Platoon Second-in-Command.

Moving from Support Company, 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) he served with B (Malta) Company during the preparations for, and initial deployment on Operation HERRICK 12 in Afghanistan.

He was then selected to command a team to train, advise and mentor the Afghan National Police in Gereshk, Helmand Province in order to further develop their capabilities and promote security and rule of law.

On 23 June 2010, following an attack on a Police Check Point near Gereshk, Colour Sergeant Horton's team, along with the Afghan National Police, deployed as a Quick Reaction Force to support.

The vehicle in which he was travelling overturned into the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal. At approximately 2208hrs local, Colour Sergeant Horton died in the incident alongside three of his colleagues from the Police Advisory Team - Lance Corporal David Ramsden, Private Douglas Halliday and Private Alex Isaac.

Colour Sergeant Hortons' sister Caroline has made the following statement:

"Martyn lived for three things - family, Army and Liverpool. He loved fighting for his friends and family. He was a loving dad, brother and son; he touched everyone he met. We will miss his cheeky grin. He will be fondly missed by everyone he knew and sadly died doing the job he loved. Once met never forgotten."

Lance Corporal David Andrew Ramsden

Lance Corporal David Ramsden was 26 years old and from Leeds. He joined the Army in January 2002 and, following attendance at the Army Training Regiment Glencorse and the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick, he joined the 1st Battalion The Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire in July 2002.

He served in the United Kingdom and Belize and on operations in Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Iraq and finally Afghanistan. He was promoted to Lance Corporal in October 2005 and left the Army in 2007 to pursue a career in civilian street.

Following mobilisation as a Regular Reservist, Lance Corporal Ramsden joined the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) in January 2010 and completed Mission Specific Training in readiness for a six month deployment to Afghanistan.

He deployed to central Helmand in April 2010 and joined the Police Advisory Team, working from the Afghan National Police Headquarters in Gereshk, Southern Afghanistan.

His team has been advising the Afghan Police in the area in order to ensure that they are better able to deliver more effective security to the city, whilst reinforcing Afghan rule of law and creating the conditions for economic development.

On 23 June 2010, following an incident at a nearby Police Check Point, Lance Corporal Ramsden's Police Advisory Team, along with the Afghan National Police, deployed as a Quick Reaction Force in support of their Afghan colleagues.

The vehicle in which he was travelling overturned into the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal. At approximately 2208hrs local, Lance Corporal Ramsden was killed in the incident alongside three of his colleagues from the Police Advisory Team - Colour Sergeant Horton, Private Douglas Halliday and Private Alex Isaac

The family of Lance Corporal Ramsden made the following statement:

"David lived life at 1,000 mph. He loved Army life and his job and as a teenager was in the Army Cadet Force.

"His friends called him Lizard due to him keeping two iguanas which he re-homed before he left for Afghanistan. He was a normal young lad who would always cheer you up and often did things for a laugh.

"He loved socialising with his mates both in and out of the Army. We all loved him so much – he was very generous and he would do anything for his family and friends.

"Although we didn't see much of him due to Army life, when he arrived back his personality lit up a room and we knew he was home and we will miss him so much." – From his Mum, Shirley, Dad, Eddie and brothers and sisters, Zoey, twin Emma, Matthew and Jeremy."

Private Douglas Niall Halliday

Private Douglas Halliday was 20 years old and from Wallasey, Merseyside. He joined the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) on 28 January 2008 following basic training at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick.

He started his career in B Company and then moved to C Company. He served in Northern Ireland, Kenya and on operations in Afghanistan.

He undertook extensive Mission Specific Training in both the UK and Kenya in preparation for the deployment on Operation HERRICK 12. He moved back to B (Malta) Company and was assigned to the Police Advisory Team in Gereshk, Helmand Province.

His team has been advising the Afghan National Police in order to further develop their capabilities and promote security, governance and the rule of law.

On 23 June 2010, following an attack on a nearby Police Check Point, Private Halliday's team, along with the Afghan National Police, deployed as a Quick Reaction Force in support of their colleagues.

The vehicle in which he was travelling overturned into the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal.

At approximately 2208hrs local, Private Douglas Halliday died in the incident alongside three of his colleagues from the Police Advisory Team - Colour Sergeant Horton, Lance Corporal David Ramsden, and Private Alex Isaac

The family of Private Halliday have made the following statement:

"Dougie was deeply loved by all of his family and friends for the love and laughter that he brought into their lives. Dougie was always the life and soul of the party and will be missed by all.We are all extremely privileged to have shared his short life.

"Dougie loved his job in the army and his comrades; he would have done anything for them. He was that special type of man. We were all so proud when he was voted top cadet in his passing out parade.

"He did us all proud and lived by the family motto; Sis Justus nec timeas.- be just and fear not.

"We remember Dougie for his charm, the special times together and his humour. He will never be forgotten.

"At this sad time for his family, we also send our condolences to the families of his comrades who also gave their lives so that we may live in freedom."

Private Alex Isaac

Private Alex Isaac was 20 years old and from the Wirral. Following training at the Army Training Regiment in Bassingbourn and the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick he joined the 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment (Cheshire) on 12 May 2008.

He served in the United Kingdom and Kenya and on operations in Afghanistan.

Following Mission Specific Training in readiness for deployment on Operation HERRICK 12, he moved from C Company to B (Malta) Company.

Soon after deployment he formed part of a team tasked with advising the Afghan National Police in Gereshk City, Helmand Province. The Police Advisory Team has been providing assistance to the Afghan Police in order to enhance their effectiveness and promote local security, economic development and the rule of law.

On 23 June 2010, following an incident at a Police Check Point near Gereshk, Private Isaac's team, along with the Afghan National Police, deployed as a Quick Reaction Force in support of their Afghan colleagues.

The vehicle in which he was travelling overturned into the Nahr-e-Bughra Canal. At approximately 2208hrs local, Private Alex Isaac died in the incident alongside three of his colleagues from the Police Advisory Team - Colour Sergeant Horton, Lance Corporal David Ramsden and Private Douglas Halliday.

The family of Private Isaac have made the following Statements

Mother; Mrs Annette Isaac, said:

"My beautiful darling son who was a fighter, and so brave, you will always be in my heart, my soul and my thoughts. God bless."

Father; Mr John Isaac, said:

"I will miss you always my brave son Alex, you now live on in my thoughts and my heart."

Brother; Mr Chris Isaac, said:

"Alex, my little brother, will always be remembered for his bravery and huge personality."

Brother; Mr Robert Isaac, said:

"Alex, I am very proud to be your brother; your strength will live on in all of us."

Girlfriend; Miss Megan Anyon, said:

"I will always love you, you brave boy."

Grandmother; Mrs Elizabeth Isaac, said:

"Dear Alex I will miss your smiling face."

Grandmother; Mrs Vera Delamare, said:

"Alex was a wonderful grandson and he will be sadly missed."

Military covenant to be enshrined in law

On a visit to HMS Ark Royal, Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged his support for the Armed Forces by announcing that the military covenant will be made law.

Prime Minister David Cameron addressing Service personnel on a visit to HMS Ark Royal

Mr Cameron explained that the covenant, the state's responsibility to its Armed Forces, will be rewritten and enshrined in law for the first time.

The covenant is an informal understanding of the state's duty of care to its Armed Forces. Until now, it has been regarded as an obligation rather than a firm rule set out in legislation.

Yesterday, Mr Cameron declared that the new Government will underline its commitment to the Armed Forces by putting it into law.

A new covenant - which will include rights to prioritised NHS treatment, decent housing and education for Service families' children - is to be given legal force in a new Armed Services Bill.

Addressing sailors, Marines and airmen aboard Ark Royal, Mr Cameron said:

"It's time for us to rewrite the military covenant to make sure we are doing everything we can.

"Whether it's the schools you send your children to, whether it's the healthcare that you expect, whether it's the fact that there should be a decent military ward for anyone who gets injured.

"I want all these things refreshed and renewed and written down in a new military covenant that's written into the law of the land."

Mr Cameron also praised the courage of British Service personnel and highlighted Britain's commitment to bringing stability to Afghanistan as he paid tribute to four British soldiers who were killed on operations.

He said:

"Our hearts go out to the comrades of those who have fallen, to their families and their loved ones.

"I remain absolutely committed to making sure we build up the Afghans' own capability and security so that they can take responsibility for their country and we can come home."

During his time on HMS Ark Royal, Mr Cameron praised Royal Navy personnel as dedicated, brave and professional in tackling piracy and drug smuggling and keeping sea lanes open.

Of them, he said:

"You are the noblest end of public service."

Mr Cameron toured the fleet flagship aircraft carrier in Halifax, Nova Scotia, ahead of a G20 summit in Canada.

Before Armed Forces Day tomorrow, he urged the whole country to 'reflect on the immeasurable sacrifice and dedication that our forces have shown in this conflict'.

He asked people to 'stand behind every one' of our Armed Forces over this weekend.

Afghan minerals mean 'self sufficiency' in 10 years

BBC News Online

Afghanistan could be self-sufficient within a decade if its mineral resources are properly exploited, its mines minister has told the BBC.

Wahid Shahrani is in London to encourage the world's mining companies to invest in his country.

He says his country has untapped mineral wealth worth in excess of $3tn.

Mr Shahrani says that mining could move the country from being aid dependent to being self-sufficient in 10 years.

Vast reserves

The BBC's Jill McGivering says that Mr Shahrani is on a multi-billion dollar sales tour, trying to drum up bids from the world's mining companies for his country's untapped minerals.

These include vast reserves of oil, gas, copper, gold and lithium.

Mr Shahrani sees mining as the country's economic mainstay in the future.

In seven years mining taxes should pay the government $1bn a year, he says, and within a decade Afghanistan could be self-sufficient.

In an interview with the BBC, Mr Shahrani dismissed critics who argue that such a massive influx of money raises concerns about corruption.

"We have improved our legislation, the procedures have been upgraded and we have been getting a tremendous amount of support from our international partners," Mr Shahrani said.

"In future whatever contracts would be awarded, all the information will be published, to make sure that all the relevant stakeholders, civil society and media and parliament, will have access to the information, to make sure we will have sufficient amount of the safeguards, to make sure that we will achieve the high standards of transparency."

Security is another key concern in relation to exploiting the country's mineral reserves, correspondents say.

The first big projects on offer are in the most secure regions of the country - and the government has promised investors a special mining protection security force.

Mining companies will also have to invest heavily in infrastructure - from electricity to roads and railways, Mr Shahrani said.