Arbroath marines to take on Taliban

By Andrew Jarret

ROYAL MARINES from 45 Commando, based at Condor in Arbroath, will be sent to take on Taliban and al Qaida fighters in Afghanistan in October.

Defence Secretary Des Browne announced in the House of Commons yesterday that 45 Commando would—along with 42 Commando, and other supporting elements, including 12 Signal Regiment—take over during “roulement” in October, when the units comprising the 4500-strong Helmand Taskforce, drawn predominantly but not solely from 16 Air Assault Brigade, will complete their tours.

In addition, a company of 30 Royal Marines drawn from 3 Commando Brigade at RM Chivenor—forming a “force protection” unit to provide firepower back-up for 320 engineers from 28 Engineer Regiment based in Hameln, Germany—will be deployed in September.

An infantry company drawn from 2nd Battalion, the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, and two platoons from 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment are also being sent to the region.

Mr Browne confirmed that the extra numbers would involve a reservist call-up.

There are already 150 reservists serving in Afghanistan and notices will be served on 450 more to fill 400 posts “in theatre.”

Mr Browne denied the move meant the Government had initially under-estimated the size of the task facing them.

He also said the troops already there had proved more than a match for the opposition they had faced.

“We said from the start that this would be a challenging mission,” he said. “We’ve over-matched opposing forces every time we’ve faced them.”

Mr Browne told MPs the reinforcements would be heading for the troublesome Helmand province to assist in security and reconstruction efforts.

More support helicopters are to be made available and flying hours for attack aircraft will be increased, he said.

Extra troops were requested for the region following the deaths of six British soldiers in the past month.

Prime Minister Tony Blair acknowledged that the troops face a “dangerous and tough” challenge in Afghanistan but said it was vital not to allow the Taliban and terrorists to regain a “foothold” in the country, which formerly provided a haven for Osama bin Laden’s al Qaida terror network.

“This isn’t a task that is simply about the security of Afghanistan,” said Mr Blair.

“If we stay the course there and do what we need to do to support the Afghans in their democracy, that prevents Afghanistan slipping back into the past which led to the terrible events of September 11 (2001).”

Shadow defence secretary Liam Fox said the tone of Mr Browne’s statement showed that “the Government now recognise that the impression given to the British public was that this mission was less dangerous than it turned out to be.”

But he added, “A failing Afghanistan represents a threat to our national security.

“We can choose to confront the forces of terror at their source before they develop or we can wait until they develop and confront them here on our own doorstep.

“Not confronting them at all is not an option.”

Yesterday’s announcement came as little surprise in Arbroath as it had already been acknowledged that the cold-weather warfare specialists of 45 Commando would be perfectly suited to take the battle to insurgents in the Afghan mountains.

Last month it was revealed that Royal Marine commandos were already engaged in pre-deployment training at RM Condor in preparation for a potential winter assault on Taliban and al Qaida targets in Afghanistan.

At the time an MoD spokesman had admitted there was “a reason why they were in pre-deployment training.”

The decision to send another elite force to Afghanistan is being seen as a sign of the Government’s determination to make a success of the perilous mission.

The dangers facing forces in Helmand has been demonstrated recently with six British deaths in the region.

The dangers of the country’s mountainous terrain are nothing new to the highly-trained Royal Marines from Arbroath. Early in 2002 the first troops from 45 Commando deployed to an area near Bagram to lead Operation Jacana.

Under the umbrella of this operation the marines carried out a number of successful offensive sub-operations.

It was known that British commanders wanted the mountain warfare-trained commandos on hand again to allow for continued operations against the Taliban through the severe winter.

The marines’ training has included learning how to work alongside Apache helicopters. The gunships have been in the thick of the action over the past few months, providing fire support for British paratroopers in battles with Taliban fighters.

Angus MP Mike Weir said he was in no doubt the highly trained marines would be able to perform any task that was asked of them but conceded it was a dangerous mission.

“45 Commando are extremely well trained and professional troops who will perform well in whatever role they are assigned to,” he said.

“As has been seen in recent weeks, Afghanistan is a dangerous situation and at this time my thoughts are with the troops and their families in what must be a difficult and stressful time.

“I would like to wish them well in their deployment and look forward to their safe return as soon as possible.”

* US war plane dropped four bombs on a militant hideout in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing more than 40 suspected Taliban members, according to coalition officials.

One Afghan soldier was killed and three US-led coalition forces wounded in fighting yesterday in Uruzgan.

The top UN envoy in Afghanistan yesterday warned that the Taliban had recovered from its defeat by US-led forces.

“If we had thought that the Taliban would not recover from their defeat in 2001, we were wrong. They have recovered and they get help through the international terrorist network,” Tom Koenigs told reporters in Kabul.

Ellie