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Soldiers training for new conflicts

British armed forces have begun training for a new generation of conflict as the war in Afghanistan draws to a close.

About 1,000 soldiers are currently being put through their paces on a mock battlefield in Canada as part of the Army's biggest training exercise of the year.

Once they have completed Operation Prairie Storm at British Army Training Unit Suffield (Batus) they will be considered to be at their highest possible level of readiness - meaning that if tensions escalate in Iraq, Ukraine or anywhere else in the world they would be the first armoured battle group into action.

Commanding officers say although they do not though know where forces may next be deployed, the current volatile international climate highlights the need the need to be prepared to respond quickly and in a wide range of terrains and conditions.

Lt Col Andy Garner, commanding officer of 1 Yorks which has 460 men take part in the 30-day exercise, said because of the focus on Afghanistan there had been an under-investment in preparations for conventional war fighting.

The focus has now shifted from countering the threat of insurgents, like the Taliban, to fighting a modern and well equipped Army.

He added: "The last 10 years have all been about Iraq and Afghanistan and as an Army we haven't been able to focus on conventional warfare which was traditionally our strength.

"For a younger generation, all they have known is Afghanistan so we have to shift their mentality towards military intervention against a 'near peer' armed force with similar equipment and capabilities to ourselves.

"We're going back to where we were 10 years ago of training for the worst case scenario should trouble flare anywhere in the world.

"You only have to look at Ukraine and Iraq to see the flexibility we may need."

He added that for many soldiers the exercise would be a challenge simply because they have never before been forced to live out of their tanks and vehicles for such an extended period.

"The conditions here vary from freezing with snow on the ground to intense heat," he added.

"This is traditionally what the Army has done well and I think my troops are enjoying this training - it is what they signed up for."

Lt Col Stephen Nevin oversees activities at Batus which, at 1,160 square miles, is the British military's biggest training facility - bigger than all of its UK equivalents combined.

Four training exercises lasting around two months take place there each year.

Many of the units which pass through Batus will be expected to be ready to deploy should a war be declared.

In recent years the training has been based on the fictional nation of Pokharistan - a Muslim country where actors playing locals spoke Pashto, the language of Afghanistan.

But the fake villages on the range have been converted to shift the mind-set of soldiers away from Afghanistan.

Mosques can be quickly converted into churches and the simulated local population is now based on a French-speaking African nation.

He said: "We can't predict where the next war will be but there has been a deliberate attempt to move away from Afghanistan to make the point to soldiers that their next tour could be anywhere in the world."

As well as the 1,000 strong battle group, about 1,000 other soldiers are acting as enemy forces and supervising the training.

Roughly 1,300 vehicles and helicopters providing air support make up Operation Prairie Storm.

The exercise involves the movement of armoured divisions and artillery, live firing on a large-scale and the use of Tactical Engagement Systems in a sophisticated game of laser quest.

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