Belfast Telegraph

Patrol ends soldiers' Afghan tour

A group of soldiers has successfully completed one of its last dawn reconnaissance patrols to deter insurgents in Afghanistan before they return home, probably never to be deployed to the country again.

The nine-man group set out at first light from Sterga 2, a base that is located on the southern side of the river Helmand, to carry out the ground dominating patrol aimed at preventing insurgents potentially carrying "lethal aid" into the green zone.

They made their way to a number of points around the area, which is on elevated ground and offers the recce platoon an extended view of the north and south of Helmand, as they carried out their checks with the backdrop of the sun coming up over the horizon.

It was the last patrol for Corporal Lee Griffiths, 1st Battalion Royal Regiment Fusiliers, before his flight home next week and an extra special day because he was also celebrating his 28th birthday.

Describing the aim of the patrol, Cpl Griffiths, who is originally from London but lives in Northern Ireland, said: "It's a ground dominating patrol to dominate the high ground and stop any insurgents from crossing the river at likely crossing points who would be bringing lethal aid into the green zone for IEDs, weapons, etc, and to engage the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) checkpoints."

He said he was especially glad to be going home because the six-month tour had been "testing at times" due to the handover period.

UK soldiers are in the process of drawing down and passing over their duties to Afghan forces who are now taking the lead.

The British presence will be almost halved by the end of this year to 5,200 and all combat operations should be over by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan forces fully in control.

Cpl Griffiths said: "It's been boring at times but we knew before we came it would be. With the transition and the drawdown, we knew it wouldn't be like previous tours.

"It's been more just getting to grips with maintaining the camp, doing small patrols like these, the odd operation."

Speaking as the platoon stopped at an observation point during the patrol, 26-year-old Corporal Connel Cunningham said he had hoped for more action during his time in Afghanistan.

"It's good to be going home," he said, "it's been a little boring on this tour compared to previous tours. There's basically been a lot of staying in, not going out as much."

Cpl Cunningham, from Manchester, served in 2009 as part of Herrick 10 and said he had not been sure what to expect before deploying this time around.

"I thought it could go either of two ways," he said.

"I thought with it being the last bit - I thought it might be a bit tough where the insurgents might hit us and make us pull out, or I thought it would go the way it has."

Despite not being as frenetic as other tours, Cpl Cunningham said he was happy because he was now a father and did not want to be in the midst of firefights, whereas he might have been in his younger years.

It was also probably his last tour in the army and he said he would spend time at home thinking about what was next for him.

Private Steven Clark, a medic from Buckie, Moray, said he was pleased the tour had been quiet because it meant nobody had been injured.

He added: "It feels good to finally get here. The last few days have started to drag because we've realised we are going soon and it felt like this day would never come."

He continued: "I'm the medic, so it's good that it's been quiet for me.

"It's kind of left me with not that much to do, which I'm thankful for because it means that everyone is okay."

The soldiers based at Sterga 2 are expected to leave in a few days' time and will be replaced by troops from 4 Scots, most of whom will carry out an eight-month tour.


From Belfast Telegraph