Examining an armoured vehicle used by the Royal Irish Regiment in their fight against the Taliban in Helmand province.
LAGAN Valley MP Jeffrey Donaldson has spoken of his pride in the work being carried out by local soldiers in Afghanistan after visiting troops on operational deployment there as part of a delegation from the Commons Defence Select Committee. The delegation visited several areas of Helmand province, where British forces are mainly based, including Camp Bastion, Lashkar Gah and the Forward Operating Base at Nad a Ali. They also met President Karzar and Defence Minister Wardak in the capital Kabul.
Speaking after his return, Mr Donaldson praised the work of the armed forces in Afghanistan and singled out the Royal Irish Regiment and the Irish Guards.
He said: "I am very proud of the men and women from Northern Ireland who are serving with the UK armed forces in Afghanistan. I met many of these soldiers and witnessed the excellent work they are doing to defeat the terrorism of the Taliban and restore a degree of normality to that country."
At Camp Bastion the Committee were briefed by Lieut. Colonel Chris Ghika, commanding officer of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards who are involved in developing and mentoring the Afghan National Army (ANA) in Helmand province.
Examining some of the weapons used by the Royal Irish Regiment to fight the Taliban on the frontline at Nad-a-ali.
It Col Colin Weir, commander of the 1st Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment at their forward operating base in Nad-a-ali, Helmand Province
Mr. Donaldson met some of the soldiers, many of them from Northern Ireland. They have been carrying out joint operations with the Afghan Army and sadly have lost one soldier Guardsman Christopher Davies, killed in action.
Lieut Colonel Ghika spoke about the successes of young ANA Officers and the tactical development of Afghan Army infantry units from Kandak (Battalion) to Brigade level.
He said: "The success of the Irish Guards advisors is due to their diligent work and professionalism and that is driven by their passion to see the Afghans succeed. We have already begun to see the fruits of this hard work and commitment, including the recent successful completion of two brigade-level operations, planned and led by the Afghan Army, with coalition forces involvement limited to only specialist capability provision."
For the first time the delegation also visited a forward operating base on the frontline at Nad a Mi. This is the operational HQ of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish, the majority of whose soldiers are from Northern Ireland, including volunteers from the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish, some of whom are from the Lagan Valley area.
Mr. Donaldson met a number of RIR soldiers who are fighting the Taliban on the front line with considerable success. Whilst they have killed some 50 Taliban and detained many more, the Regiment tragically lost one of their soldiers Ranger Aaron McCormick killed in action.
In a briefing by Lieut Colonel Colin Weir, Commanding officer of 1 Royal
Irish, the delegation were told his soldiers had killed or detained more
Taliban in the past two months than had been killed or detained in the same
area in the past two years. They had succeeded in taking significant
territory back from the Taliban.
Mr. Donaldson said: "It was particularly interesting to visit the soldiers of the Royal Irish who are serving on the frontline and having considerable success in driving the Taliban out of the area for which they are responsible.
"Indeed, their success has been recognised at the highest levels of military command and I heard one British General describe the RIR as the best infantry unit in Afghanistan. These men and women display the highest standards of military professionalism and their courage in confronting a dangerous enemy is equally impressive.
"I told the soldiers from both the Royal Irish Regiment and Irish Guards that they continued to be in the thoughts and prayers of many people back home and that we hoped they would all return safely when their tour of duty ends.
"I look forward to meeting many of them again at the various homecoming events that are being planned including the Freedom of the City of Lisburn which is to be conferred on the Royal Irish Regiment in May."