500 Shropshire soldiers ready for eight-month Afghanistan mission

"It remains a dangerous place" – that is the warning from the commanding officer of a Shropshire-based regiment which is heading off to Afghanistan on its latest mission.

500 Shropshire soldiers ready for eight-month Afghanistan mission

Suicide bombers, high profile attacks on Western targets and assassination attempts are just some of the challenges that the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment is set to face on the mission.

Despite it not being a combat mission, Lieutenant Colonel Graham Shannon, Commanding Officer of the regiment, said there are many issues to contend with.

About 500 soldiers from the regiment's base at Clive Barracks in Tern Hill, near Market Drayton, will visit the country as part of an eight-month mission where it will continue the ongoing work of the British Armed Forces.

The regiment's soldiers will be mainly based in Kabul, Afghanistan's largest city

Lt Col Shannon said the main job of the regiment will be to provide security and support.

"The first troops are already out there and the flow will continue over the next week or so," he said.

"The mission essentially tells the story of how Afghanistan has moved on. It is not a combat mission and we will not be doing what people remember from the news on previous missions.

"We will see the development and progress which have been made. We will be supporting the development of Afghan institutions.

"We will also be providing security and provide a control of movements of Nato forces in Kabul.

"We will be there in the event of a serious incident which would involve Nato forces being ready to respond.

"We will be defending ourselves and those people we are there to protect. We will be working with Afghan security forces who will have the lead."

Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel Graham Shannon

Lt Col Shannon said he was looking forward to working with armed forces from other countries.

"The entire battalion is going out there. Some will be out there for eight or nine months, while the majority will do four months," he said.

"We will be supported by our reserve battalion – The 2nd Royal Irish.

"We will also be working very closely with companies from the US, Australia and New Zealand.

"The American unit – the 101st Airborne Division is a fantastic unit and it will be a real pleasure and privilege to work with it."

One of the regiment's previous deployments to Afghanistan saw the deaths of three soldiers, Ranger Aaron McCormick, Lance Corporal Stephen McKee and Ranger David Dalzell.

Lt Col Shannon said: "You have to have an excellent team of medics and there will be a great deal of responsibility on young soldiers. There will be changes to the environment to be aware of and there will be responsibilities with providing security and forging relations with Afghan forces.

"It remains a dangerous place and there are a number of different threats. There have been high profile attacks targeting bases and Western targets. There have been suicide vehicles and people as well as assassination attempts.

"We will be based around three main places – the airport, centre of Kabul and in the national army academy. This has been the jewel in the crown for delivering training for the Afghan army."

Two years ago the regiment took delivery of new types of armoured vehicles after officially changing its focus from an air to a ground assault organisation.

Until 2014 it mainly roped or dropped into action from helicopters, but then officially changed its designation to a light-armoured vehicle based group.

The changes were part of the ongoing UK-wide restructuring plan known as Army 2020.

Since 2014 the regiment has been known as a light protected mobility battalion operating from a range of new vehicles, including the Foxhound.

"We have been working with the Foxhound for two years now and know the vehicle well. We know exactly how good it is and how to exploit it. We have done lots of preparation and lots of exercises with it," Lt Col Shannon said.

"Training has been really good. We are well supported and know the equipment.

"It has got us in a fantastic place and everyone is really confident."

In March the Ministry of Defence announced Clive Barracks would be sold off to make way for a new development.

It means a new home will need to be found for the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment before the barracks are sold by 2022.

Lt Col Shannon paid tribute to Shropshire for making the regiment welcome, saying it had become an integral part of the community.

He also said he has still not been informed of where the regiment could be relocated to.

"Our focus is on our mission. We will just have to see what will happen. We love it here and the support from people right across the county has been fantastic. People have always been supportive, especially at a time like this," he added.

Clive Barracks opened in 1916 and has been home to the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Regiment since 2007 when the battalion moved from Fort George, Inverness.

The barracks hit the headlines on February 20, 1989, after a pair of IRA terrorists activated two bombs within the accommodation block.

No-one was injured in the early morning bomb attack thanks to the sentry who cleared the barracks after seeing two men acting suspiciously.

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