By Daniel Hunter
Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander has visited British Armed Forces personnel deployed in Afghanistan’s Helmand Province.
Arriving late on Monday evening, the Chief Secretary spent the night at main UK base Camp Bastion, before visiting one of the few remaining small patrol bases still operated by British troops to talk with those serving there about the progress made as they train and advise Afghan forces.
The number of British bases has reduced over time as the Afghan National Security Forces have taken the lead for security across Helmand Province. At the height of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan there were 137 UK forces operated bases in 2010, which based on current planning, will reduce to four or five by October 2013 as they either close or are handed over to Afghan forces. The growing capability of Afghan forces has allowed British troops to move from a combat role to one of mentoring and training.
Danny Alexander said:
“I was impressed to see the work that British troops are doing to help Afghan forces to operate by themselves and take on the security challenges facing the Afghan government.
“I have nothing but admiration for the professionalism with which our Armed Forces take on this challenge.
“My time here has shown once again this is a hugely professional Armed Forces that we are proud to have as a country. The job that’s being done here in Afghanistan is first rate and I’ve been hugely impressed by what I’ve seen.”
The minister visited Patrol Base Attal in Lashkar Gah District, where UK troops from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment (2RTR) operate.
The patrol base is located next to the headquarters of the 1st Kandak of the Afghan Uniformed Police (AUP), who provide security for the area and are now an independent, highly effective organisation.
Troops from 2RTR deployed to Helmand in April 2013 to support the Afghan forces as they lead in security for the area. Both regular and reserve soldiers at Patrol Base Attal assist the AUP as they provide security for Route 601, a key road in Helmand crucial to the local economy, as well as training and advise their Afghan counterparts.
At Camp Bastion, Danny Alexander met senior officers and troops from the Afghan National Army’s 215 Corps and the soldiers from 4th Battalion the Rifles, who are training and advising the Afghan brigade that has worked alongside British forces for seven years.
After meeting Major General Malouk, the commander of 215 Corps, the Chief Secretary saw how British troops assist in Afghan training programmes at Camp Shorabak, the headquarters of 215 Corps, located next to Camp Bastion.
There he saw Afghans training to use mortars and D30 field guns on the ranges, and spoke with their mentors. The Afghan National Army are increasingly independent and Afghan security forces have now assumed lead responsibility for security throughout the country - a significant milestone for Afghanistan.
The Chief Secretary flew to the Helmand capital Lashkar Gah, where he met with Catriona Laing, the Head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team for Helmand Province, and Brigadier Rupert Jones, the Commander of Task Force Helmand, who briefed him on the progress of the mission to support and assist Afghan forces.
The Chief Secretary met with the Helmand Provincial Governor to discuss a wide range of issues including the current security situation in Northern Helmand. The Provincial Governor spoke about the challenges facing women in law enforcement and the gradual improvement to women’s rights and rates of education.
Danny Alexander was accompanied throughout the day by the most senior British officer serving in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General John Lorimer, Deputy Commander of ISAF. They had further discussions in Kabul on the strategic challenges of the mission in Afghanistan.