A BATTALION of around 80 soldiers has been deployed to Afghanistan amid growing fears over troop security after a spate of attacks by members of the Afghan army on Nato forces.
Infantry from The Royal Scots Borderers, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (1 Scots), left Dreghorn Barracks yesterday for a six-month tour of the increasingly volatile Helmand Province.
Their mission will be to mentor and train Afghan security forces prior to military withdrawal from the country planned for 2014.
The deployment comes days after two British soldiers were killed by a man dressed in an Afghan soldier’s uniform who lured them into danger by faking an injury. The killings were the latest in a series of “green-on-blue” attacks to hit the country this year.
Sergeant Gareth Thursby, 29, and Private Thomas Wroe, 18, both of 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment, were the eighth and ninth fatalities of this kind of attack, coined from the colour-coding of different uniforms used by the US and Afghan military.
Almost 50 members of the International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf) have been killed this year by men wearing the uniforms of the Afghan police and army.
Transport officer Captain Alistair Cuthbertson, 44, who will be joining the battalion next week, described the deaths on Saturday as “tragic” and said: “We have trained extensively and one of the key aspects of the training has been on cultural awareness to help us understand better the people we will be working alongside in the Afghan National Army.
“It’s extremely important that as we go about the business of mentoring and advising them we really understand their culture, to help us maintain the best working relationship we can.”
He added: “We will be training the Afghan forces in all basic military skills, such as patrolling and medical and weapons training, but also in the key components of logistics and administration, which will enable them to provide stable security forces when our armies are withdrawn at the end of 2014.
“Some of those going are more experienced soldiers, while others are being deployed for the first time. The bulk of them are from the Lothians and the Borders areas.
“This is my first time in Afghanistan, though I have previously served in Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland, so I have a lot of experience in unstable zones.”
Commanding officer Lieutenant Colonel Ben Wrench, 1 Scots, leader of the Brigade Advisory Group, said the battalion would take over the duties performed by 3 Rifles, who are based at Redford Barracks. He said: “Because we are working so closely with the Afghan national army, we have focused on cultural understanding, or developing the soldiers’ ability to have a cultural empathy with the people they are working alongside.
“The challenge is the physical terrain so the heat and actual terrain which will be very different to what we are used to. When we land the temperatures will be in the high 30s or low 40s in degrees centigrade.”
In total, 450 soldiers from 1 Scots will be deployed in Afghanistan by the end of the month. Lt Colonel Wrench said training provided by his troops would focus on enabling Afghan forces to become self-sufficient.