Afghanistan deaths raise questions ahead of deployment of East Anglian troops

Two months after the Afghanistan war started in October 2001, the United Nations insisted there was a determination to bring an end to the country's 'tragic conflicts'.

Furthermore the organisation's resolution also sought to promote 'national reconciliation, lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights' in the country.

Statements such as this bolstered the international community's endorsement of a military campaign to stop Afghanistan being used as a 'base for terrorism', in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks in the United States.

While not universally popular, there was more of an acceptance of the war compared to the later campaign launched in Iraq.

But with the Afghan conflict now in its 11th year and the British death toll rising above 400, questions remain about what to do next.

You may also want to watch:

The government is targeting a British withdrawal by the end of 2014.

Almost three years to ensure more than a decade of sacrifice and toil from men and women in the armed forces has a long-term impact on Afghanistan.

Most Read

But also potentially another three years of danger and despair.

Widespread mourning continued yesterday for the six British soldiers - aged between 20 and 33 - killed by an apparent improvised explosive device while on patrol in Helmand Province.

Army officials believe East Anglian troops preparing to be deployed in the war-torn country still have a job to do - and will not be deterred by one of Britain's bloodiest days in Afghanistan.

Around 600 soldiers from the 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment are expected to be in the country by early April.

Captain Tom Clark, regimental signals officer, said: 'It's right and proper we finish the job and don't get deterred by events like those recently, tragic though they are.'

The Vikings, which recruits from Norfolk, Suffolk, Cambridgeshire and Essex, have been on the frontline of the battle against the Taliban in previous tours.

They suffered the loss of nine men in 2007 and five in 2009/10.

On their latest mission they will be stationed in the Nad-e Ali district of Helmand province, regarded as an area making good progress during a transition period.

Captain Clark added: 'We've received training in everything we are expecting to deal with and more. We could not be better prepared.'

Support for British troops remains high, although the government's policy divides opinion.

But there is a difficult balancing act of making sure the 404 soldiers killed have not given their lives in vain, while ensuring families do not have to suffer the same feelings of grief.

Gorleston man Corporal Darren Bonner, 31, from 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, died in 2007 when an explosion hit a British convoy in the Gereshk region of Helmand province.

Speaking of the latest deaths, his mum Christine Bonner said she felt 'sick' at the thought of another soldier losing his life and what their family will experience.

The 55-year-old, who has led a number of mammoth fundraising walks across the country, said she has 'mixed feelings' on the planned withdrawal of British troops by the end of 2014.

Mrs Bonner, of Gedney in Lincolnshire, continued: 'If we can pull out and know our boys had played a part in turning it into a reasonably safe country ... then that would be fine but I can't see that being the case, so does that mean it's going to go back to how it was, and in that case, why did our boys die?

'I don't want other people to die, but I don't want my son and all these 400 soldiers to have died in vain either.'

Families of those serving in the Royal Anglians have received advice and information from the Viking Support Group ahead of the latest tour.

Alison Burgess, of Bury St Edmunds, played a crucial role in developing the group and said the aim was to prepare people for what to expect.

Mrs Burgess, whose two sons Nick, 25, and Dan, 23, were both deployed in Afghanistan in 2009, said: 'I am sure there will be a time that a family thinks 'what's it all about?' But it's a soldier's job, they have a job out there and it's important we support them in doing that to the best they can. When the soldiers know their families are OK, they can concentrate.

'We've had such a big loss of life and it's absolutely devastating. It's a soldier's family nightmare really. But it's good to know they are not forgotten.'

Defence secretary Philip Hammond suggested yesterday morale in Afghanistan remains 'extremely high'.

The head of the Armed Forces, Sir David Richards, has also vowed that Britain's military strategy will not change and the country will 'hold its nerve'.

Former head of the British Army Lord General Richard Dannatt, writing in the Daily Mirror yesterday, added: 'Whatever happens, our combat troops will pack up in 2014, hand security over to the Afghans and go home.

'We have shown them the way, they need to have the courage and belief to follow it.'

Around 300 members of the Light Dragoons, based at Robertson Barracks, Swanton Morley, near Dereham, are also due to start a six-month tour of duty.

They lost six colleagues in 2009 and constituency MP George Freeman, Conservative for Mid Norfolk, said: 'The Prime Minister has made it clear we are in the process of a phased withdrawal, which I strongly support.

'But it's essential that we do that in a way that gives no encouragement to the Taliban and al-Qaeda that our resolve is in any way weakening in the global fight against Islamic extremism.

'As the Light Dragoons prepare to deploy for their next tour they need to know that every effort is being made at the diplomatic, political and economic level to lay the foundations for increased security on the ground.'

Simon Wright, Norwich South MP, added the next two-and-a-half years would be crucial in ensuring the work of British forces in Afghanistan would not be wasted.

The Liberal Democrat said: 'There's the time to do it but it needs to be done effectively and without fear that countries will pull out and undermine that transition.'

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter
Comments powered by Disqus