Northern Ireland-based troops in Afghanistan have taken to the streets of what was once considered that worn-torn country’s most dangerous town.
But this time the soldiers from the second battalion The Rifles, from Ballykinler, patrolled through Sangin armed with crayons, pencils and pieces of paper.
They accompanied members of the Afghan National Police and met more than 200 local children to discuss plans for a new play park in the town — once a Taliban stronghold.
Last year Royal Irish Regiment soldier Ranger Justin Couples was killed in Sangin when an improvised explosive device went off during a routine foot patrol.
The meeting was organised by the Military Stabilisation and Support Team — specialist six man teams tasked with helping the local Afghan population with small scale economic and community regeneration projects.
MSST leader Royal Navy Lieutenant Gary McCormack RN said: “The turnout was a complete success and showed the level of perceived security in the town that such a number of children attended.
“The Governor-backed initiative was aimed at attempting to involve the local children in the re-design of Eid Park and in those terms was a resounding triumph.
“We collected a number of drawings from the children which showed a number of recurring themes including football, flowers and play parks and we are now in the process of putting these into a design to present to the Governor for his approval.
“We then hope to start work as soon as possible and hope to achieve the finished park before our tour ends which would be a great achievement for the team.”
Commanding Officer of 2 Rifles battlegroup, Lieutenant Colonel Rob Thomson, said: “The success of the children's meeting demonstrates the continued improvement of security in Sangin, down to the hard work by the Royal Marines before us and continued by the riflemen of 2 Rifles.”
The role of the MSST is to act as the liaison between the Commanding Officer of Battlegroup North and the civilian Stabilisation Advisor, Nick Pounds, employed by the UK Government's Department for International Development.
This includes liaison with the local Afghan population to assist in funding community projects such as well-building and repair, mosque refurbishments and irrigation clearance and maintenance operations.