Sunday, July 13, 2008

Third Afghan tour of duty for Scottish commando unit

Third Afghan tour of duty for Scottish commando unit

By Angus Howarth

ABOUT 500 Scottish-based Marines will spearhead Britain's next deployment to Afghanistan in October, it was announced yesterday.

The men of 45 Commando, from HMS Condor, in Arbroath, will be sent as part of 3 Commando Brigade to replace the paratroopers and two Scots infantry battalions of 16 Air Assault Brigade fighting the Taleban.

This will be the third operational tour of Helmand province in six years for 45 Commando and the second since last April, when they lost six of their comrades.

About 400 Marines from 45 Commando also served as reinforcements for the invasion of Iraq in 2003, although because the entire unit did not go to war as a single body with its own headquarters, the Ministry of Defence does not count it as a full deployment.

In effect, however, the Arbroath-based Marines have carried out four testing combat operations in six years to relieve pressure on the overstretched and under-strength British Army.

The Arctic warfare specialist unit has lost four men in Afghanistan and one in Iraq since 2001, and another two soldiers attached to it have also died.

Des Browne, the Defence Secretary, announced yesterday that the new force for Helmand will include 42 Commando, Royal Marines, as well as the 2nd battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, the 1st battalion of the Rifles, and the 1st Queen's Dragoon Guards.

It will also include the first of additional units announced by Mr Browne last month, which will see the British fighting force in the country rise from 7,800 to over 8,000 by next spring.

A total of 110 soldiers have now lost their lives in Afghanistan. The last was Lance-Corporal James Johnson, 31, of B Company, 5th Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland. He was part of a vehicle checkpoint patrol operating in the Lashkar Gar area when he died in a blast on 28 June.

L-Cpl Johnson, who was engaged, was attending to a report of an attack on a civilian aircraft when an anti-personnel mine detonated, killing him instantly.

He was the 13th casualty in Afghanistan in the space of a month, with June recording the second-highest death toll for British forces since the war in Afghanistan began in 2001.

The Royal Marines lost a man in January last year despite a spectacular rescue effort, when Lance Corporal Mathew Ford, from Dundee, who served with 45 Commando, died during an attack on a major Taleban fort.

His colleagues realised he was missing and four soldiers were strapped to the small side-wings of two Apache helicopters and flown in to the danger area under covering fire, but they found that he had been killed.

Meanwhile, Nato yesterday confirmed one of its soldiers was killed in a roadside bomb blast in eastern Afghanistan.


45 COMMANDO Royal Marines is a battalion-sized unit – numbering several hundred men – within 3 Commando Brigade.

Based at RM Condor, in Arbroath, they specialise in cold-weather operations but are capable of operating in tropical jungles or the desert.

First deployed for the Normandy Invasion in 1944, the unit also served in the Falklands war, Northern Ireland, the Suez Crisis, the Aden Emergency in the 1960s, and the first Iraq conflict.

More recently, they took part in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and have also previously operated in Helmand.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim Morris took over command in December 2007.

He joined the Royal Marines in 1987 and has served in Northern Ireland, Egypt and Afghanistan.