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Saturday, 25 October 2014

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Cumbrian soldiers come home for Christmas

Dozens of soldiers have given their families early Christmas presents by returning home early from Afghanistan.

Soldier photo
Kingsman Danny Gasgarth with his fianceƩ Grace Maltby and their daughter Lucy

The troops from Cumbria’s adopted Army regiment have flown back into the country after security of the area in which they were based was handed over to Afghan forces.

Their early return from Helmand Province is part of moves to reduced the number of British servicemen and women deployed on operations in the country.

Loved ones were delighted to see them as the soldiers from 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment (1 LANCS) returned to their barracks, at Catterick in North Yorkshire.

The unit includes Cumbrian soldiers who are among hundreds from the regiment currently on a tour of duty in Afghanistan.

All are working as part of the 4th Mechanised Brigade – the so-called Black Rats.

Those who returned early were members of Burma Company and are the first of 500 troops to be sent home from Afghanistan following an announcement by the Prime Minister last year.

Soldiers who returned to their home barracks on Friday were all member of the 1LANCS’ Burma Company.

Brigadier Bob Bruce, commander of 4th Mechanised Brigade, said: “In terms of the campaign this is the most obvious example of progress during our tour so far.

“The important thing has been enabling the Afghans to take a firm hand on the security situation in this area.”

Burma Company had been stationed at Patrol Base Nahidullah in the Lashkar Gah district of Helmand Province as part of an Adviser Team Enabling Company (ATEC) supporting the 8th Precinct of the AUP.

Their role was to advise, train and support the police to bring security and stability to the region, but that job is now complete.

Nahidullah has now been closed, the first base of its size to have shut in Task Force Helmand’s Area of Operations.

Major Ed Fraser, Burma’s commanding officer, said: “This area was hard fought over but a very active police force has come in over the last couple of years.

“There are over 200 police officers serving here and they have security locked down effectively.

“The police are ready to take on the security of the area.

“They are running their own operations independently, they have asked for little bits of support but they were operating very much on their own from the beginning of October.”

Among the soldiers who has returned is Sergeant Rob McCormack, 27.

He said: “The Afghans were brilliant, they were happy to get out and conduct their own operations. A lot of the time they didn’t really ask for our help, when we tried to spur them on to do stuff they were already doing it proactively.

“The troops are generally happy about going home, however they still have friends out here so sometimes they have the feeling that they want to stay with them.”

Nahidullah is the first of the large British bases in Task Force Helmand’s Area of Operations to be closed.

As one of the larger bases it had support from civilian contractors who provided everything from satellite television and internet access to laundry facilities.

During the closure process, the facilities were removed and the base reduced to more basic levels for the troops that remained until the final day.

Following some leave, the soldiers who have returned will provide support to the battle groups deploying to Afghanistan in April 2013, when Burma Company will be reunited with the rest of the Battalion.

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