The last major element of more than 14,000 Royal Marines to serve in Afghanistan have returned to the UK – marking the end of more than a decade of operational deployments in the country.
About 80 of A-Company 40 Commando have returned to a warm welcome from their families and friends at Norton Manor camp, Taunton, Somerset having served in main operating base Price, in the Nahr-e Saraj district, for the past six months – the last time the Royal Marines will deploy to Helmand Province.
More than 100 ecstatic families cheered and waved banners as they welcomed the troops to the camp. Children were dressed in clothes marked with appropriate logos, including a baby waving a flag bearing 40Cdo colours and wearing a baby-suit bearing an embroidered commando dagger, even a pet dog wore a coat with a 40Cdo design.
James Trowbridge, bugler with the Her Majesty’s Band of the Royal Marines Band was hugged by his girlfriend Emma McFadyen, from Dundee, also in the RM Band. James, of Rosyth, said: “It s great to be back and see my lovely girlfriend again. It was a busy tour which made things go fast. I took part in any ceremonial occasion and my secondary duty was organising for the lads to get their parcels on the frontline, which are very important to them as you can imagine , being far forward and to hear from their families. But I was also always looking forward to being back with Emma. It’s fantastic seeing her again.’’
Emma said: “I’m so looking forward to spending ordinary time with James. It seems to have been a long time.’’
Lance Corporal James Caisley, from Machynlleth, Mid Wales, was met by his wife Stephanie and their baby daughter Jessica, aged nine weeks. James cradled her gently and said: “It’s awesome to be back and see my daughter and Steph. Luckily enough Jessica’s birth coincided with my R and R (rest and recuperation) which was amazing timing. It was wonderful to see her just born. The tour was great. But now it is even better to see her so soon again, though she has grown already. I am over the moon to be back and to be a dad.’’
Stephanie said: “It’s amazing to have him back and to see him with Jessica. It is the best thing in the whole world.‘’ Danny Williams, of Norton Fitzwarren, Taunton, was rushed upon by his overjoyed family, wife Claire, children Mackenzie, 6, Alex, 3, and Taylor 2.
Danny said: ”It’s just so great to be back and see this lot again. They have grown. They want holidays and pets, so they are telling me. It was a good tour, but even better to be back with the family.’’
Claire said: “It’s been hard work with three kids on my own while Danny’s been away. But that’s all forgotten and now we can be a family again. The kids are so excited and so am I. They all want a bit of their dad and are asking for all sorts.’’
40 Cdo are the most recent Royal Marines unit to serve in Afghanistan after successive deployments, who have served in areas including Sangin, Nahr-e Saraj and Musa Qala. Their sister unit, 45 Commando, were the very first British troops to deploy to the country in 2001.
Royal Marines have been awarded nearly 200 honours for their acts of bravery and distinguished service in Afghanistan, including a George Cross, seven Distinguished Service Orders and ten awards of the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross, including one posthumously.
The commando group, who have now handed over to 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, have seen security improve dramatically during their tour. Working out of MOB Price, which the Marines nicknamed “HMS Price” in line with Royal Navy tradition, they have developed the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan police units in the area to take on responsibility for security and have worked together to successfully tackle the insurgency.
40 Commando will take leave and then begin training for contingency operations, providing part of the UK’s amphibious warfare capability. 40 Commando will also take part in a medals parade through Taunton on May 16th.
In the past year, the number of UK bases across Helmand has reduced from 80 to 12 as they are handed over to Afghan forces or dismantled, in line with growing Afghan security capability. MOB Price is expected to be handed over to the Afghans in due course.
At an earlier occasion Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The courage of the Royal Marines, and indeed all of our Armed Forces who have served in Afghanistan over the past decade, has been truly outstanding. Their commitment has made sure that transition of security to Afghan control is deliverable by the time we end our combat operations in December 2014. I recently saw for myself the capabilities of the Royal Marines as they undertook arduous winter training in Norway. I was extremely impressed by these Commandos who are absolutely committed to preparing for contingency operations that may arise whenever and wherever in the world.
“The hard work of 40 Commando Royal Marines in Afghanistan over the winter has led to impressive progress in the capabilities of Afghan forces as they take on security responsibility, with decreasing levels of assistance from UK and ISAF forces.
“It is these Afghan forces, developed and trained by UK personnel, who will ensure that Afghanistan never again provides a safe haven for terrorists.”
First Sea Lord, Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, also at an earlier occasion, said: “Royal Marines have been a key part of the Afghanistan effort since the UK committed to the region in 2001 and I would like to thank them for serving their country so valiantly, showing determination, commitment and courage. It has not been easy – with the many successes there have also been a number of sacrifices. Our thoughts and continued support are with those who were injured and their families and we will never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. The seminal contribution made by the Royal Marines has undeniably helped the Afghan Army strengthen its capability and with that brought greater stability to the region.”
Lieutenant Colonel Matt Jackson, Commanding Officer of 40 Commando Royal Marines, described his unit’s work in Afghanistan before A-Company’s homecoming as “absolutely exemplary”.
He said: “The Commando group has been able to transfer lead security responsibility from ISAF to the Afghan National Security Forces in a very difficult area of Central Helmand. Working together over the winter, we have given the Afghan Army and the Afghan police the confidence in their own abilities to operate together. More importantly, we have given them the belief that they can operate independently from us; they now know that they are good enough to face down any future challenges that lie ahead. This is in no small measure due to the sacrifice made not just by the 62 Royal Marines who have lost their lives in this campaign, but by all Service personnel.”
Chief of Staff for 40 Commando, Major Karl Gray, previously said the unit had previously deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001, then returned on operations in 2007, 2010 and 2012.
He said: “Having been here on and off since 2001, it has been really encouraging to see the tangible progress that the Afghan National Security Forces have made in their ability to legitimately and effectively provide security in the region. This is testament to the sacrifices and efforts made by each operational tour. We have sadly lost many outstanding Marines and soldiers during this campaign and, although only a small comfort to the families of the bereaved or injured, I can honestly say that these tragic losses have not been in vain. Everyone who has served here has made a difference, not only in Afghanistan but also to the security of the UK by preventing Afghanistan being a haven for terrorists.”
40 Commando Royal Marines served with Task Force Helmand, led by the British Army’s 4th Mechanised Brigade, who shortly transfer authority to 1st Mechanised Brigade.
Some Royal Marines will remain serving in Afghanistan on an individual basis, working alongside their colleagues from other services, as the UK continues to support the development of the Afghan National Security Forces.
At Tuesday’s London homecoming parade of 40Commando and 4th Mechanised Brigade Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said: “Along with a number of my fellow Members of Parliament, I was proud to have the opportunity to welcome 4th Mechanized Brigade home from
Afghanistan at the Palace of Westminster. Their achievements in what remains an extremely tough and dangerous operational environment should not be underestimated. As well as welcoming home those who have served, in particular we should remember those who have not returned. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten.”
Commander 4th Mechanized Brigade, Brigadier Bob Bruce, said: “A huge amount was achieved by the men and women of 4th Mechanized Brigade over our six-month tour. Through their hard work and sacrifice, Afghanistan is a step closer to a peaceful future, with the insurgency weakened further and the Afghan forces now in the lead for security operations in their own country. It has been a great honour to parade through Westminster and, on behalf of the Brigade, I would like to thank the All Party Parliamentary Group for the Armed Forces for extending this invitation to us.”
The UK currently has approximately 9,000 service personnel in Afghanistan, reducing to 5,200 by the end of 2013. The majority of British service personnel are based in Helmand Province.