Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 25 October 2014

Battle-scarred battalion back home

The Earl of Wessex presents medals to the Second Battalion the Rifles at a ceremony at their HQ in Ballykinler, Co Down
Children play with flags during a medal ceremony for the Second Battalion the Rifles in Co Down

The battalion which suffered one of the worst casualty rates in the Afghan war has returned from its second tour of duty.

The battle-scarred 2 Rifles went to Helmand last September knowing its members had suffered a terrible toll previously, with a quarter of those on the ground returning injured.

Its members stood relatively unscathed on Tuesday as around 400 received operational medals from Prince Edward at Ballykinler army base in Co Down, Northern Ireland.

Lance Corporal Peter Eustace died in November from an bomb blast while on patrol in north Helmand.

Double leg amputee Rifleman Justin Davis, who was injured when an improvised device exploded in Helmand, and Rifleman Fred Owusu, who suffered a shattered leg, were placed at the front as the prince greeted the lines of troops.

Wearing full uniform, he thanked the men for their dedication and met with the family of L/Cpl Eustace. There was a handful of other serious injuries and some shrapnel wounds, the army said.

Many of the riflemen were working with the Afghan National Army, which is gradually assuming greater responsibility for law and order. This month more British servicemen died when a member of the Afghan forces turned on them.

Captain Mark Cripps, 29, from Northamptonshire, said there were rogue elements in every army. "It is one individual in thousands," he said. "There are strange people in every army. It is an unfortunate thing. If we suddenly became aggressive against them that would make things worse."

Capt Cripps was involved in reconnaissance with an Afghan brigade, part of a group of 10 British relying on more than 100 Afghans for their safety.

"We have a very strong understanding of Afghans. They are fantastic people. Their culture is remarkably similar to ours and hospitality is one of the most important things to them," he said.

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