RAF Marham squadrons set to see out Afghan conflict as country prepares for April 5 elections
© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2009
RAF Marham squadrons will be among the last to serve in Afghanistan, as British forces withdraw from the country.
Eyes in the sky
Marham’s Tornado squadrons have played a key role throughout the Afghan conflict, which began with the US-led offensive against the Taliban in October 2001 after the 9/11 attacks which destroyed the World Trade Centre, killing thousands.
British forces were included in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), with the RAF helping the Americans and other nations provide air support.
Tornado crews pioneered the use of aerial imaging equipment which could beam down live pictures from the aircraft to commanders on the ground. The aircraft’s on-board cameras delivered high-resolution images which could reveal where earth had been disturbed - indicating a possible IED (improvised explosive device).
The jets packed a punch alongside their reconnaissance role, with precision-guided bombs and missiles which could deliver a devastating strike to ground forces involved in a ‘contact’ with the Taliban.
Often, an ear-splitting low-level pass would be enough to make suspected insurgents think twice.
Norfolk-based II(AC) Sqn, which is currently providing air support to Coalition and Afghan ground forces, will be replaced later this year by its sister squadrons IX(B) and 31.
Air Commodore David Cooper, formerly commanding officer at Marham, is now the joint command director of air operations in Afghanistan.
Britain plans to withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by the end of the year. Many patrol bases in areas which have seen the worst fighting over the 13-year conflict have been closed or handed over to the control of the Afghan army.
AC Cooper said: “The air activity hasn’t drawn down very much, on the air side we’re as busy as ever.
“Before we leave, before the end of the year, we’ve got the full summer season to come.
“The enemy, the insurgents tend to become more active in the summer months so we’ve still got a job to do.” AC Cooper said he had renewed aquaintances with II(AC) and its commanding officer Jez Holmes, who he knew well from his days at Marham.
“Not many of them have changed,” he said “So many faces I knew at Marham, they were smiling, they were happy.”
He added the RAF planned to replace II(AC) with IX(B) and then 31 Sqn - meaning Norfolk squadrons would see out the Afghan operation until its end. While the tempo of sorties flown remains high, the Tornado jets are now acting increasingly as the eyes in the sky for Afghan forces.
“The winter time’s generally quieter anyway, but the number of sories we’ve flown hasn’t changed,” he said. “We’re still flying quite a few sorties a day, seven days a week. The thing that has changed is we’re doing a lot more support of the Afghan forces on the ground.
“It’s less bombs and bullets than a few years ago, that should be seen as a sign that we’ve brought more stability to the country.”
AC Cooper said II(AC) would be providing air cover as required in the run-up to the Afghan elections being held on April 5.
“Our tactical focus is helping the Afghans secure the elections,” he said. “We’re trying to bring as much stability to this country as we can in our remaining time.
“At the moment we’re focussing on developing the Afghan security forces and the Afghan air force, to maximise their capability in the few months we’ve got left.
“We’re reaping the rewards now for all the hard work the Coalition’s done over the last 10 years.”