Dozens of Scottish soldiers have returned home from Afghanistan, as security in their area of Helmand Province is handed over to Afghan forces.
More than 50 guardsmen from Right Flank of 1st Battalion Scots Guards have returned to their barracks in Catterick, North Yorkshire as their check points have been closed and the Afghan National Civil Order Police (ANCOP) take responsibility for security in Helmand’s Upper Gereshk Valley.
Working alongside ANCOP
The Scots Guards are serving with Task Force Helmand, currently led by the British Army’s 4th Mechanized Brigade, known as ‘The Black Rats’, and Right Flank forms part of the first 500 British troops to be sent home from Afghanistan as announced by the Prime Minister last year.
The troops were based at Check Points ‘Barcha’ and ‘Pan Kalay’ and Observation Post ‘Tegha’ in the Upper Gereshk Valley – the northernmost area of operations for Task Force Helmand. The guardsmen have been working alongside the ANCOP to bring security and allow freedom of movement for traffic on Route 611, the main road between Sangin and Gereshk, but that job has been successfully handed over to the police.
Lieutenant Sayed Farid, the new Afghan Commander from the ANCOP’s 5th Brigade taking over from The Scots Guards in Pan Kalay, said: “I believe all the Afghan forces are now well equipped, well-armed and ready to take on the security of Afghanistan.
“Since we have been here we have some really good relations with the ISAF forces. They have really helped us out. We are only sad because our friends are leaving. They did their part of the job and we did ours.”
'Job is done'
1 Platoon Commander, Second Lieutenant James Westlake, 31, attached to Right Flank from the Honourable Artillery Company, said: “It was quite apparent to everyone in the platoon, not just higher-up, that the job is done. The time is right to be going back and the Afghan forces in those locations are ready to take over – there is just not a job for us to do by staying there.
“So everybody is satisfied that it is a job well done and, once you take that into account, everybody is looking forward to getting back.”
Guardsman Alan Primrose (pictured), 20 from Dundee, said: “The Afghan forces are brave people; I could fight alongside them anytime. I can rely on them and they can rely on us.
“I’m definitely looking forward to going home for Christmas especially because I’ve got two kids as well.”
8 Platoon Commander Lieutenant Tom Lavington, 27 from Edinburgh, added: “I’m looking forward to getting back to Edinburgh, seeing my girlfriend and then walking underneath the Christmas lights on Princes Street. Then it’s probably a glass of mulled wine and off to bed for a few days.”
500 personnel to leave
The Check Points and Observation Post are the first on the main 611 highway in Task Force Helmand’s Area of Operations to be closed. During the closure process, the facilities were removed and the base reduced to more basic levels for the few troops that remained until the final day.
The Scots Guards are now returning to their North Yorkshire barracks and, following some leave, will be responsible for providing support to the battle groups deploying to Afghanistan in April 2013, when the guardsmen will be reunited with the rest of the battalion.
The Defence Secretary announced last year that 500 British personnel would be withdrawn from Afghanistan by the end of 2012, reflecting the continuing progress in Helmand. The drawdown is consistent with the process of transition to Afghan forces agreed by ISAF nations at Lisbon in 2010.
The Defence Secretary has emphasised the UK’s commitment to Afghanistan for the long term, pledging £70m per annum in funding for the Afghan security forces, in addition to the taking the lead in setting up an Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy in Kabul after the combat mission ends in 2014.