No let up for RAF Marham’s Tornado squadrons as the war in Afghanistan enters its end game

A Tornado from Marham-based 31 Sdn prepares to take off from Kandahar air base, in Afghanistan. Picture: Antony Kelly A Tornado from Marham-based 31 Sdn prepares to take off from Kandahar air base, in Afghanistan. Picture: Antony Kelly

Friday, December 20, 2013
3:52 PM

Air and ground crews from the Norfolk base will continue providing air support around the clock, as the military operation prepares to scale down, one of the directors of ISAF - the International Security Assistance Force - has told the EDP.

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British troops will be returning home next year because they have accomplished their mission, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Troop numbers in Afghanistan are expected to be reduced from 9,500 to around 5,200 in December 2014.

Their role will move from counter-insurgency to helping re-build the country as part of a combined NATO force.

Air Commodore David Cooper, who was commanding officer at RAF Marham until October, is ISAF’s joint command director of air operations in Afghanistan.

“The air support roughly stays the same throughout next year,” he said, speaking from Afghanistan via satellite phone.

“Whilst there are people on the ground in Afghanistan air power provides that cover.”

Marham-based II(AC) Squadron is expected to deploy to Afghanistan in the New Year. AC Cooper said the base’s three squadrons would “cycle through”, taking it in turns in theatre next year.

Norfolk squadrons have played a key role throughout the conflict, flying armed reconnaissance sorties in support of ground forces.

As well as missiles and cannon, the aircraft bristle with sophisticated aerial imaging equipment. Their cameras can detect distrubed ground - possibly indicating the presence of an improvised explosive device (IED) - and track the movements of suspect Taliban insurgents.

“When we first started working with weapons on the aircraft together with a video pod, we were wone of the first nations to start doing that,” said AC Cooper.

“The Tornado can also carry the Raptor reconnaissance pod, we’re the only people in Afghanistan flying with that.

“They can take imagery on successive days. The people on the ground can look at the imagery and see if anything’s changed.”

Around 110 air men and women will deploy to Afghanistan from Marham, when II(AC) begins its tour next month.

Personnel from the base’s Tactical Imaging Wing are also in-theatre, studying imagery beamed down from sorties.

AC said the weather was currently similar to Norfolk. But those arriving in weeks to come might find that changed.

“The temperatures are between plus-four and minus-three,” he said. “We’re expecting snow in the next couple of weeks and in the past, this place has had horrific winters.”

David Cameron said British soldiers would be withdrawing next year, after helping achieve “a basic level of security” in the country.

During a surprise visit to Camp Bastion on Monday, he told reporters: “That is the mission, that was the mission and I think we will have accomplished that mission and so our troops can be very proud of what they have done.”

British forces have been in Afghanistan since 2001. They joined American forces who invaded the country after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Since then, there have been 446 fatalities in the 12-year struggle to prevent remote provinces being used as a stronghold for terrorist groups.

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