Exercise highlights challenge for troops

It is a scene that is becoming all too common for our troops in Afghanistan.A routine patrol turns into disaster as an armoured vehicle hits a crudely-made Taliban roadside bomb, causing horrific injuries to the military personnel inside.

It is a scene that is becoming all too common for our troops in Afghanistan.

A routine patrol turns into disaster as an armoured vehicle hits a crudely-made Taliban roadside bomb, causing horrific injuries to the military personnel inside.

But for members of a battle-scarred RAF Regiment, it was a vital training exercise yesterday as they prepared for one of their most challenging deployments to date.

Less than a year after returning from a tour of Iraq in which they lost four comrades, more than 160 gunners from 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, RAF Honington, took part in their final mock battle before six months of protecting Nato forces at Kandahar airbase in Afghanistan.


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Four months of intensive training came to a head at the Stanford Training Area, near Thetford, yesterday as personnel dealt with the aftermath of a mock explosion involving a roadside mine.

The lowland forest and heathland of Breckland is a long way from the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan, but three real-life amputees with fake blood were used to make the scenario as realistic as possible as the squadron was tested on the realities of being on the frontline in the war-torn country.

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Gunners yesterday spoke of their concern, but also confidence about getting the job done. After their August deployment, they will have to contend with minus 20C temperatures during the Kandahar winter nights.

News of the deployment of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment comes after 13 members of the British Armed Forces were killed in the country in June - the second-highest death toll since operations began in November 2001.

Sqn Ldr Lee Morgan, officer commanding 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, said morale was “high” within the unit, despite the losses during their last operation in Basra, Iraq. “We know what the threat is in Afghanistan. We have been operating as a regiment there for two years, but we are not complacent. We know the Taliban are resourceful and constantly evolving their methods and we are constantly evolving our training to make sure we are the best prepared we can be,” he said.

Yesterday's exercise was the culmination of four months of work with the RAF Regiment training wing involving basic soldiering skills, weapons and vehicle training, and combat first aid.

Sqn Ldr Morgan added: “It is true that we are a busy regiment and busy across defence. We are returning to operations in Afghanistan just under a year from operations in Iraq and the only way we can deal with that is to address the quality-of-life issues and look after the men and families well when they are home.

“Unfortunately we find ourselves in another theatre, but this is what we signed up for and we are prepared for that.”

Sgt Rob Williams, of 1 Squadron RAF Regiment, added that the unit had become “tighter” and “more united” since their tour of Basra airbase last year, in which Senior Aircraftmen Matthew Caulwell, 22, Peter McFerran, 24, Christopher Dunsmore, 29, and Leading Aircraftman Martin Beard, 20, were killed.

He added that colleagues in Kandahar, Afghanistan, were dealing with increased attacks from Taliban rockets, improvised explosive devices and suicide attacks.

“We are expecting it to be very tough and if it is not, it is a bonus,” he said.

“It is a worry because we are taking out young lads to Afghanistan and as commanders we do worry for them. You only have to be unlucky once, but the training prepares you very well and we are all confident in the men we are taking out there.”

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