Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Helicopters home from Iraq

After six years of service in Iraq, the last Puma and Merlin helicopters have come home to Royal Air Force Benson in Oxfordshire.

Merlin and Puma Force Commander and Station Commander Group Captain Jon Burr addressed the gathered crowds, praising the professionalism and performance of the men and women of the Support Helicopter Force.

“The Pumas have played an active role in Iraq since 2003, to be joined by the Merlins 2 years later” he said. “The Merlin made its name in casualty evacuation, carrying out daring rescues in a hostile environment to rescue British and coalition lives”. It’s been a big commitment for the personnel of RAF Benson. “Some staff have been deployed in Iraq several times over, which combined has added up to almost 2 years of their life spent in Iraq” said Group Captain Burr.

For the crews returning today there is a chance to catch up on family life and take some time off before the task of working up to Afghanistan deployment. “It’s fantastic to bring home the Squadron” said Wing Commander Nigel Colman, Officer Commanding 78 Squadron. “We faced quite varied and significant challenges in Iraq, on an Operation which has at times, involved intense war fighting. Now we’re able to prepare for and be completely focused on Afghanistan.”

As the Helicopter Force prepares for a four month training exercise in the United States, the Station Commander explained the benefits of training ‘hot and high’ in a different climate. “We are pulling out all the stops to make sure we are ready for Afghanistan. We must ensure crews are trained to operate safely and that both crews and aircraft are in tip top condition.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Vehicles return from Iraq for redeployment to Afghanistan

One of the final deliveries of heavy equipment has arrived back in the UK from Iraq enabling some of it to be refurbished and sent to support operations in Afghanistan.

The MOD logistics ship 'Anvil Point' docked at Marchwood military port on Southampton Water in the early hours of Friday 24 July 2009 with its cargo of vehicles, stores and equipment from Operation TELIC (Iraq).

Among the vehicles on board were several Mastiff armoured personnel carriers lashed to the upper decks, which will be refurbished now they are back in the UK and made available to commanders for operations in Afghanistan.

Providing the manpower at the Marchwood military port is 17 Port and Maritime Regiment, part of the Royal Logistic Corps, whose personnel comprises of port operatives such as crane drivers, stevedores, railway operators and boat handlers, among many other trades.

Since the end of Operation TELIC and the withdrawal of British forces from Iraq over 4,000 containers of kit and over 600 vehicles have made their way back to the UK and into the system for redistribution wherever they are needed.

The logistical challenge is huge involving a massive operation in Iraq and Kuwait to document and track each piece of valuable equipment.

This gruelling task was undertaken by the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC) using a innovative tracking system that works through a combination of identification stickers and electronic 'guns' that read the stickers' information; and 'bricks' containing electronic information, attached to equipment, that are tracked by mobile electronic data sensors.

The system used by the MOD is a modified 'off the shelf' purchase, saving considerable research and development costs. It has the added advantage that it is compatible with the US military version.

The system can be set up at the roadside at the end of a convoy route in under five minutes and can register over 100 containers as they are driven past at 50mph (80km/h). That information can then be used to tell exactly what is in every one of those containers and where they are going.

Captain Richard Hall, the Theatre Drawdown Unit Technical Officer, explained:

"Consignment tracking is widely used by civilian companies to track stock as they export and deliver it to their customers. Recently the Armed Forces have harnessed this technology to our advantage.

"Knowing where our stock is saves us money; we have a large logistic focal point here in Kuwait, and smaller ones at key Middle Eastern air and sea ports. We also have series of similar nodes in the UK at the delivery locations and ports of entry."

All the data sensors on the equipment are connected, via satellite, to a central computer server in the UK which can be accessed by users all over the world. This gives total visibility of where items of equipment and vehicles are but, most importantly, when they are going to get to their destination.

Corporal Mark Wright, who is responsible for making sure that the data bricks are secured to every piece of kit, said:

"You can see Total Asset Visibility readers at most ports, airports and border crossings. They look similar to a small satellite dish, and these scan the bricks as the consignment physically passes by, and then relay the information to a central server.

"We can't have soldiers deployed across the world to zap the barcodes, so this is a way of capturing the information automatically, saving on manpower and money."

The technology means that as the Anvil Point docked in Southampton the 17 Port and Maritime Regiment personnel quickly and easily unloaded the cargo and organised it for onward transit - and possible return to front line operations.

The majority of kit has been shipped from Iraq to the UK on one of four civilian roll-on/roll-off ships, operated on a long-term lease by the MOD to transport military supplies and equipment.

In total there will be eight ships' worth of military hardware returning from Iraq when the operation is complete.

Friday, July 17, 2009

RAF Engineer - "first in and last out of Iraq"

A Royal Air Force engineer who was amongst the first British military to enter Iraq in 2003 is now going to be one of the last out.

Squadron Leader Graem "Pingu" Corfield was flown with the Royal Marines into Iraq's Al Faw Peninsula on day one of the British operations in Iraq in 2003.

He was part of One Marine Expeditionary Unit who provided air engineering support for the Royal Marines' assault on the Al Faw Peninsula.

Now after much change in southern Iraq, Squadron Leader Corfield is serving as second-in-command of the Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) (JHF(I)), based in Kuwait, supporting Operation Brockdale; the drawdown of British equipment from.

And he now expects to return home on one of the last, if not the last, flight. Reflecting on the change in Iraq since the start of Operation TELIC, Sqn Ldr Corfield said:

"Iraq was a police state when I first arrived. Now it's an organised, democratic and self-reliant nation."

He also spoke about the use of the Merlin helicopter in Iraq:

"Chinooks and Lynxs were world class at their job in the original invasion of Iraq but now, the Merlin is the battlefield helicopter of choice and it has made Iraq its own. It's saved lots of lives," he said.

In the UK, Sqn Ldr Corfield works as a Senior Engineering Officer on Tornado aircraft, based at RAF Lossimeouth.

He is currently working with JHF(I)'s three Merlin helicopters as part of the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC) in Iraq which is running the operation to recover six-years-worth of kit from the country, through Kuwait and onward to the UK.

The task faced by JFLogC when they arrived in Iraq on 28 March 2009 was immense with almost 4,200 troops in Iraq, an estimated 5,000 containers of equipment to process, and over 600 vehicles from Challenger tanks to quad bikes to deal with.

The majority of kit has been shipped to the UK on one of four civilian Roll-on/Roll-off ships, operated on a long-term lease by the MOD to transport military supplies and equipment. To date six ships' worth of military hardware has been dispatched, with another two to go later this month.

Apart from a small number of forces who will likely remain in Iraq, subject to the agreement of the Iraqi Government, to continue training and mentoring the Iraqi Armed Forces, British personnel, kit and equipment are due to be home by 31 July 2009.

Friday, July 10, 2009

80 per cent of kit removed from Iraq

The operation to return British military equipment from Iraq, one of the biggest logistic challenges to be undertaken by British military forces in modern history, reached its 100-day point on Friday 10 July 2009

The Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC) is the driving force behind Operation BROCKDALE which commenced on 1 April 2009, and they estimate that 80 per cent of the work is already complete.

Commenting on Operation BROCKDALE on Friday, the Secretary of State for Defence Bob Ainsworth said:

"The withdrawal of UK forces from Iraq has been conducted in good order and with consummate skill and I congratulate everyone who has been involved. This is intelligent logistics at its best, ensuring value for money for the taxpayer.

"In their first 100 days, the Joint Force Logistic Component, supported by forward-based civilian teams from the Defence Support and Distribution Agency, has made magnificent progress and I am confident they will continue to do so until the task is complete."

The Commander of JFLogC is Brigadier Paul Stearns Royal Marines who said:

"Today's military equipment is at a premium, it is high quality and high value. It's vital we get it to its next home fully refurbished or put on the shelf ready for use again as quickly as possible.

"The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in our equipment and my team are acutely aware of this. It is my job to protect that investment."

The task faced by JFLogC when they arrived in Iraq on 28 March was immense with almost 4,200 troops in Iraq, an estimated 5,000 containers of equipment to process, and over 600 vehicles from Challenger tanks to quad bikes to deal with.

Since then the JFLogC have made every one of the 100 days count.

Lieutenant Colonel Darrell Amison, the Commanding Officer of 4 Logistic Support Regiment, who make up the mainstay of the specially formed Theatre Drawdown Unit or TDU, said:

"Of the 5,000 containers we had to deal with we have shipped to the UK, sold or disposed of almost all of them.

"We have now processed all but 100 of the vehicles that are due to go back home, and we are on track to get the remainder where they need to be by our target date of September."

In an innovative military development the TDU was specifically generated to reflect the requirements of Op BROCKDALE, incorporating a Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME) Armoured Equipment Support Company to process vehicles and a Royal Logistic Corps (RLC) General Support Squadron to deal with the hundreds of thousands of items of kit and equipment.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

RAF Merlin flies 3500 miles back to UK

An RAF Merlin helicopter lifted off this morning from the Headquarters of the Joint Force Logistic Component in Kuwait for a marathon journey of 3500 miles back to UK.

Many helicopters making their way back to UK go on either a ship or in the hold of one on the RAFs massive C17 transport aircraft however on this occasion flying it directly represented the most speedy and economical option as well as providing important training for the crew.

Flight Lieutenant Max Bond is leading a team of six from the Joint Helicopter Force in Iraq (JHF-I) who will be onboard for the four day journey.

‘Planning is the key to success on a mission like this’ he explained form the operations room of the Joint Helicopter Force. ‘We are travelling though seven countries and will stop a total of 10 times for fuel and rest’

‘There are flight plans, diplomatic clearances and plenty of pre-booking required’ we’ve spent several days planning this trip’

For the past 5 years the Merlins have been supporting combat operation in Iraq however for the last 4 months the helicopters have provided direct support to the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC). The Logistic force is co-ordinating the drawdown of six years worth of kit, equipment and personnel from Iraq since the end of combat operations in April this year.

So far JFLogC have completed about 80% of the task of handling over 4000 containers of kit and equipment; returning 600 vehicles to UK and reducing numbers from 4200 to the 500 troops now split between Iraq and Kuwait.

‘Good order’ is our watch word explained Lieutenant Colonel Lloyd Watkins, the JFLogC Chief of Staff, ‘and the helicopter force here in Kuwait are a key enabler in achieving this’.

The Merlin’s have provided a vital link between the Kuwait Support Facility, the Military port of Umm Qasr and the Contingency Operating Base on the outskirts of Basra which has been home for British forces for the past 6 years.

‘Now that UK troop numbers have reduced we can release one of the three helicopters’ explained Squadron leader Mark Biggadike, the Officer Commander the Merlin flight.

The helicopter will be going back to the UK for an overhaul then on to join the existing force in Afghanistan.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Signals soldiers given Iraq medals

60 communication specialists from 20th Armoured Brigade (The Iron Fist), the last serving British brigade in Iraq, received their operational medals this week in front of family, friends and partners.

Paderborn-based 200 Signal Squadron, which supports the Brigade Headquarters, were responsible for shutting down the communication networks in the south of Iraq while handing command over to the Americans.

Brigadier Tom Beckett (late Para) presented all first-time recipients of the TELIC medal on Wednesday 1 July 2009, followed by a speech in which he congratulated all members of the Headquarters and 200 Signal Squadron saying:

"The brigade has been there three times and to see our collective efforts over the last six years produce a good result in Basra is great.

"TELIC 13 was historic because it was the last British tour in Iraq and done successfully."

Troops from 200 Signal Squadron were based at the majority of British force locations in southern Iraq including as far south as the port at Umm Qasr and at Iranian border crossings.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

MOD auctions off surplus kit to Iraqis

As the UK withdraws all its equipment from Iraq, auctions are being held to sell off kit that won't be brought back to Britain to businessmen in the Middle East.

As the UK withdraws all its equipment from Iraq, auctions are being held to sell off kit that won't be brought back to Britain to businessmen in the Middle East.

While equipment that can be used again is being returned to Britain in good order for refurbishment and redistribution to troops elsewhere, surplus kit, from scrap metal to pick-up trucks, that would cost more to return to the UK than it is actually worth, is being sold off locally.

The auction operation benefits both the expanding Iraqi economy, with good deals on scrap, vehicles and furniture, and the British taxpayer, who stands to recoup in excess of £1m as well as reap savings in dismantling, decommissioning, transportation and storage costs.

Head of Overseas Disposals for the Ministry of Defence's Disposal Services Authority, Scott McCulloch, has made numerous visits to Basra to get the best return on surplus equipment for the taxpayer.

He said:

"The amount of money we save is very important, not only is the price paid quite significant but it’s a big saving when you look at shipping and storage costs in the UK. Overall it’s been a huge saving to the UK taxpayer."

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sandstorm blasts UK troops in Kuwait

British troops in Kuwait and Iraq are being blasted by a fierce sandstorm which for the last 48 hours has made their work of bringing UK kit home from Iraq almost impossible.

With winds of over 52mph whipping up the sand in temperatures of 47 degrees, the logistic force, ensuring that six years' worth of combat equipment returns from Iraq in good order, are battling with terrible working conditions, but they are still managing to get some work done.

Private Simon Ameet Limbu says as he takes an hourly atmospheric reading:

"It's like standing in an oven, in a wind tunnel, and on the beach all at the same time."

Private Limbu is a Combat Medical Technician from 4 Medical Regiment based in Aldershot who are manning the medical centre for the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC).

He and others provide the medical care for 500 troops split between Iraq and Kuwait. They are bringing out the remainder of the kit and equipment from Iraq following the end of combat operations in April this year:

"We hear on the news that they are experiencing a heat wave in Britain at 33 degrees. That's nothing! It's hotter than that in the middle of the night here," he added.

"It's tough, but it's not impossible. We get issued top spec goggles that keep the sand out and we're all pretty well acclimatised now. We just work at a pace that suits the heat and take in as much water as possible. The Army have even given me a Camelback drinking system to keep my fluid levels up in the heat of the day."

Captain Ned Brown, a pilot from the Joint Helicopter Force, said it was a tough day to fly in:

"The helicopters are modified to fly in the sand but there comes a point when it just becomes impossible."

He explained that planning ahead can beat the weather:

"We knew it was going to be a tough day weather-wise so we got our business done in a weather window this morning."

Meanwhile troops from the specially deployed Theatre Drawdown Unit continue in their mammoth task of accounting, checking, packing and moving thousands of items of equipment either back to the UK or to Afghanistan. Many of them working in the open.

The storm is forecast to continue for the next few days.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rebuilding Iraq: the role of IT staff

IT contractor Peter Moore has been held hostage in Iraq for over two years.

His plight has highlighted the dangers facing ordinary workers and civilians living and working in the country. Even aid agencies have deemed the situation too perilous, and most moved their staff out years ago.

There are 31 million Iraqis in the country, as well as thousands of contractors and military staff, including technology workers working on projects that will play a crucial role in the rebuilding of the country.

The war decimated much of the country's infrastructure, including the telecommunications network and any hope of a reliable internet.

Some restructuring work is underway, but Gartner analyst Vittorio Dorazio predicts it will be at least five years before Iraq sees any real changes.

Many would consider technology as relatively low down the list of priorities in a country that does not have enough doctors or schools. But IT will be a crucial part of improving basic living standards.

Building records and systems

IT company EMC is working in Iraq through its business partners. Mohammed Amin, regional manager for EMC Middle East, said IT is central to providing public services and standards of living.

"IT has to work in parallel with building roads and schools, and improving transport and healthcare," he said. "These developments need records and systems. You need healthcare databases, and systems are needed to determine who is eligible for new passports and citizenship, for example."

The main areas of activity are telecoms, government and the banking sector, which is now starting to re-awaken. Most telecoms investment is going into mobile communications, because landline networks are more cumbersome and expensive. The government, with help from oil revenues, is investing large amounts in basic infrastructure equipment and in archiving government information.

"There are so many documents from the past 30 years which are very important - they detail how to run the country, how to handle the security situation, how to control Iraq's borders. They need a huge archiving system," Amin said.

Full of potential

Despite the hurdles that Iraq will no doubt have to get past, there is plenty of activity and potential, according to Dorazio.

"The Iraqi IT industry is definitely growing, despite the crisis. There are small companies, but you don't see large companies. It is in a very early stage. The fighting is even now ongoing and it is very hard to provide a service when the overall infrastructure is disrupted," he said.

EMC's Amin agrees the security situation is still a problem. EMC has considered opening an office in the safer northern part of Iraq, but has had to put its plans on hold after a resurgence of violence in the past couple of months.

Progress on security is still being made. Large IT companies and consultancies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, do business in Iraq and transfer knowledge to the country.

The armed forces have also played a big role in training up the Iraqi security forces in all kinds of skills, ready for the UK's departure in July this year.

Lt Col Jon Cole, commander of joint forces for communications and information systems in Iraq, said, "We have assisted with training the Iraqi forces so we are not leaving them in the lurch. There is also a small British army presence that is staying in the country, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to help with training."

The army, navy and airforce have worked in partnership with local contractors throughout their six years in the country, although the military operations have been self-contained and will have had little impact on civilians. In mid-March the information systems engineers started winding down the military IT operations in Iraq, and they expect to be finished in mid-July.

Throughout the war, IT and communications have been a central part of military operations. "It is absolutely crucial," Cole says. "More and more equipment that comes into service is technologically far superior than in previous generations. Command and control officers use large screens and advanced systems to keep track of where soldiers and vehicles are. If the IT is not working, a patrol will not go out - it is as simple as that."

Once the military has moved out, the UK government will help reconstruction efforts through the Provincial Reconstruction Team, based in Basra. There is a long way to go, but hopes are high that Iraq could one day become a technological hub in the Middle East.

"First, we need stability," says Dorazio. "But Iraq could really leapfrog other countries in terms of technology. Back offices will not be constrained by legacy systems, and people starting businesses can get the newest technology. There is a massive amount of potential."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Anna-Lee the brains behind Forces day

Major Anna-Lee Johnston, who is currently in command of 9 Armoured Company, part of 4 Close Support Battalion REME based in Bordon, is organising the first Armed Forces Day in Kuwait on Saturday.

Major Johnston (34), is responsible for the work of more than 50 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers personnel who are repairing vehicles in Iraq and Kuwait and preparing them to be sent back to Britain in good order, now that the UK combat missions in Iraq have finished.

The unit has so far overseen the movement of around 5,000 containers and shipped more than 600 vehicles – from quad bikes to Challenger Two main battle tanks – back to the UK.

All the kit being returned to Britain is quickly refurbished and either redistributed or 'put on the shelf' ready for reuse at a later date.

The REME is part of the force of more than 600 personnel in Iraq and the Kuwait Support Facility at Camp Buehring near Kuwait City, supporting the withdrawal of combat kit in good order from Iraq.

When not busy at her 'day job', Major Johnston is organising a day of events to celebrate Armed Forces Day in Kuwait.

She said: "It's important to remember servicemen and women past and present and our Armed Forces Day will be a celebration for them. It will also be a landmark in our deployment in Kuwait and gives the guys something to look forward to."

Major Johnston joined REME in 1997 after gaining a Masters Degree at Cranfield University. Since then, she has enjoyed an exciting career, serving in Germany, Cyprus, Canada, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

l The British Army have finished combat operations in Iraq and are currently bringing their personnel, kit and equipment home, to be out of the country by Friday, July 31.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RAF Merlin helicopters continue to operate in Iraq

Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) continues to operate three Royal Air Force Merlin helicopters to provide the lift and shift capability for British forces in Iraq.

Flown by RAF aircrew, with support elements from the Army, Navy and RAF, helicopters remain the movement and logistic workhorse of choice to ensure the drawdown of forces from Iraq in good order.

Although UK combat operations were successfully completed at the end of April, the men and women of the Joint Helicopter Force are still flying operational sorties into Iraq every day. They are supporting the Joint Force Logistic Component, a specialist logistic team charged with bringing UK forces and equipment home from Iraq in good order.

In full body armour and flying tactical profiles constantly honed through the conflict thus far each Merlin takes off with twin front and one rear-facing General Purpose Machine Guns and over 1000 rounds of ammunition for each flight. Flares are carried and fired to protect against the possibility of heat-seeking missiles. At night they are often required to fly low level across a featureless desert with only Night Vision Goggles to aid their final descent into tight landing areas, often bristling with unlit masts and pylons.

“One of the biggest challenges here is the weather” said pilot Flight Lieutenant Mike Barclay, “it can be fine gin clear at take off but in less than 5 minutes the wind can whip up the sand into a ferocious storm, making a landing impossible. We have to be ready to make some swift decisions when that happens.

“The Merlin is a fantastic helicopter, but like any helicopter the heat presents its own challenges. We cannot lift the same payload we can in UK for example, this means careful planning and co-ordination is a constant feature of our activity” said Capt Ned Brown, an Army pilot who is Operations Officer for the Force.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iraq receives Italian-built fast patrol boat

Iraq on Saturday took delivery of the first of four Italian-made patrol ships it has ordered, as part of a plan to treble the country's naval forces in the coming years.

Iraq's navy is rebuilding itself after being destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion.

It now has about 2,000 sailors, and defence chiefs have said they aim to boost its manpower to 6,500 in the next two to three years.

The Fatah, which can mean to conquer or victory in Arabic, is a Saettia MK4-class fast patrol ship that will be used to patrol Iraq's economic zone and in search-and-rescue missions.

It set sail after its completion at the Fincantieri shipyard in La Spezia, Italy, a month ago, with three other such fast patrol boats due to be delivered at a rate of one every three months.

In total, the four ships are worth 80 million euros (110 million dollars), with each measuring some 54 metres (177 feet) long, weighing 390 tonnes, and attaining a speed of 23 knots with crews of 38.

The Fatah was escorted variously by Italian, American and British warships during its journey through the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the pirate-filled waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz, officials said.

The long voyage from Italy was be the first time the new navy has travelled outside Arabian waters, and is the first such journey for the force in decades.

Military matters: A luggage mountain two and a half miles high - The Times

Deborah Haynes, Defence Correspondent

The Iraq mission is over for Britain’s combat troops, but hundreds of support soldiers are still hard at work destroying, selling or transporting out of the country six years of military kit, in a quiet reverse of the 2003 invasion.

It is the biggest logistical challenge that Group Captain Richard Hill, Deputy Commander of the Joint Force Logistic Component, has ever faced.

“Having the opportunity to bring the whole headquarters to do a theatre extraction and drawdown, that’s very interesting and rewarding,” he told The Times from a US camp in Kuwait, where the military removals force is based.

From Challenger tanks and Lynx helicopters to socks and boots, everything has to be accounted for. The 1,000-strong team dealt with equipment needed for combat missions in Afghanistan first, including Mastiff armoured vehicles and devices to counter the threat of roadside bombs.

British Forces have amassed mountains of gear since they rolled over the border from Kuwait in March 2003. If every ISO container was stacked on top of each other it would stand more than two and a half miles above the desert.

The majority of the equipment, including computers, tables, chairs, Land Rover Discoveries and tents, ended up at the Contingency Operating Base, a sprawling camp just outside Basra city, where thousands of US troops are now located after some 4,000 British forces pulled out.

In an operation dreamt up last summer and put into action earlier this year, the military assesses every item to decide what needs to be brought back to Britain or a British base in Germany, what can be left behind and what should be destroyed.

The 5,000 ISO containers, stacked up like Lego bricks at the Basra base, are central to the mission. However, it transpired that many had deteriorated over the years under the burning Iraqi sun. So, in a novel attempt to recoup cash, the logistics team filled some of these cast-offs with other unwanted items — such as army towels and rolls of barbed wire — and sold them though a private contractor at auction to local Iraqi businessmen.

The rest of the damaged ISO containers were sold for scrap metal. The military also flogged other piece of kit, such as a number of the Land Rover Discoveries and pick-up trucks, because it would have been more expensive to ship them back. In total, the troops raised more than £1 million through the sell-off.

The remainder of the gear, anything from generators to air-conditioned dog kennels, is bound for home. Night after night, long lines of convoys make the 185-mile journey from Basra to the Kuwaiti camp and then on to the port, laden with ISO containers packed with kit as well as trucks laden with combat vehicles.

Up until May 11, the convoys were run by the British military, but as troop numbers decline — there are only about 50 military personnel left in Basra — the remainder of the gear is hitching a ride with US convoys.

Even some helicopters are driven out by road. Warrior armoured vehicles are stripped down and loaded up. They are destined for Britain for a complete overhaul.

Members of the logistics team in Kuwait go through the containers, assessing the kit before it is loaded into cargo ships — private roll-on-roll-off ferries rented by the Ministry of Defence.

In the latest departure, MV Hurst Point is due to dock in Marchwood next week after setting off from Shuaiba port in Kuwait at the start of the month. The ship is carrying 200 ISO containers packed with gear and 51 armoured vehicles.

Sergeant Justin Crocker, 28, from Wales, helps to load the vehicles on to the boats. “We just make sure that they get on the boat without any accidents,” he said, adding that each vessel takes about eight hours to load. Soldiers have to unload and check the kit inside the containers in temperatures up to 60C/140F.

“It is interesting. I have never done a tour like this,” Sergeant Crocker said. “It is a bit of a weird tour for us.”

In a symbol of the Iraq exit, British Forces handed back the sand-coloured stone building that served as their headquarters in Basra for the past six years to the Iraqi authorities on Monday. It is one of the last British-occupied buildings in the south to be returned.

“I am not a sentimental chap,” said Group Captain Hill, who attended the handover. “It was the final act as far as the Iraqis were concerned of the British Forces’ extraction from Iraq.”

The building, which is situated close to Basra airport, is expected to be converted into a hotel or a conference centre.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

British forces hand over Basra HQ building to Iraqis

Some of the last British forces based in Basra handed back the former headquarters building of the to the authorities at Basra International Airport.

The building, a former hotel sited near the main airport terminal, was handed over to the airport's director, Mr Ameer at a ceremony yesterday as part of the ongoing withdrawal of the British forces.

The building was an unfinished shell when coalition forces arrived in 2003 but the UK has since carried out millions of dollars worth of work to make the building habitable.

British Forces are now leaving Iraq in accordance with the UK's security agreement with the Iraqi government. The Airport authorities will now decide on any future use of the building

The building has been the work place of thousands of coalition personnel over the past six years as well as civilian staff from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and UK Department for International Development. This building represented the very heart of the UK's efforts to make Iraq, and particularly Basra, a safer and more prosperous place.

Monday, June 15, 2009

RAF Tactical Supply Wing returns from Iraq

A highly specialised unit within the Joint Helicopter Command, the RAF Tactical Supply Wing, which has been refuelling battlefield helicopters in Iraq for the last six years, has now come home. Report by Neale Adams.

Battlefield helicopters will not fly unless the RAF Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) is on operations to make it happen.

The best mechanics and pilots can ensure an aircraft is airworthy or flown well, but without fuel the war bird stays on the ground.

Usually the first in and some of the last to leave operational areas, personnel from the TSW literally 'dig in' to establish and maintain a battlefield fuel capability to keep the helicopters in the air to move troops and equipment and, where necessary, extract casualties.

The fuel depots are a high-level target. In 2006 a major offensive by local insurgents against the Forward Operating Base at Al Amarah saw a direct mortar strike on a TSW rubber storage tank, resulting in the loss of 94,000 litres of aviation fuel.

Two days later, during a further bombardment, refuelling hoses were set on fire, but the swift action of the TSW detachment prevented a further loss of fuel and allowed helicopter operations to continue.

Moreover fuel and replacement equipment was rapidly redeployed from the main operating base in order to swiftly re-establish TSW's full operational capability.

In another incident a General Service Tanker containing 28,000 litres of fuel suffered a direct hit, resulting in the total loss of the vehicle.

During the same period TSW personnel continued to refuel aircraft while coming under fire, to ensure that the aircraft were able to take off and counter the threat.

In recognition of the dedication and bravery of the TSW personnel, two members were awarded the General Officer Commanding Commendation for their actions.

This article is taken from an edition of RAF News - Voice of The Royal Air Force.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Royal Marine brings kit home from Iraq

A local senior Royal Marines officer, who is Commander British Forces in Iraq, is leading the huge operation to bring home six-years-worth of operational equipment from Iraq in good order.

Brigadier Paul Stearns, is the commander of the Joint Force Logistics Component, a specialist headquarters that can be deployed anywhere in the world to support UK operations.

His headquarters of 25 staff is currently in the Iraqi desert, overseeing the removal of more than 4000 combat troops, 5000 containers of kit and more than 1000 vehicles – from quad bikes to the 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tank from Kuwait.

The operation has been ongoing since before the completion of UK combat operations in Iraq was announced in April and is now well under way.

Their aim is not only to recover all the combat kit used in operations in Basra Province but to make sure it is done in good order and as efficiently as possible.

Brigadier Paul explained: ‘Today’s military equipment is at a premium, it is high quality and high value. It’s vital we get it to its next home fully refurbished or put on the shelf ready for use again as quickly as possible.

‘’The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in our equipment and my team are acutely aware of this. It is my job to protect that investment.“

Most of the equipment has left for the UK on a fleet of military container ships leased by the Ministry of Defence. By the end of the operation they will have moved

Monday, June 8, 2009

Naval Service pitches in to bring Iraq kit home

The Naval Service is well-represented in the team leading the massive operation to bring home six-years-worth of equipment from Iraq in good order.

Brigadier Paul Stearns Royal Marines is the Commander of the Joint Force Logistic Component, the specialist headquarters currently deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

There are around 80 matelots currently serving in theatre, from Baghdad to Um Qasr and Kuwait.

And there is plenty of dark blue among his headquarters staff of 25, based in the Kuwait Support Facility situated in the desert around 100 km outside Kuwait City

They are supporting the recovery of 5000 containers of kit and more than 1000 vehicles – from quad bikes to the 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tank - from Kuwait.

Their task is not only to recover all the combat kit used in operations in Basra Province but to make sure it is done in good order and as efficiently as possible.

Most of the equipment has left for the UK on a fleet of military container ships leased by the Ministry of Defence and manned by RNR sponsored reservists.

By the end of the operation they will have moved

• More vehicles than in the bus fleets serving Bristol and Bath

• Around 5000 containers – enough to build a Jenga tower 2 ½ miles high

• 102 convoys were needed to bring the equipment out of Basra to the port, driving a total distance equivalent to 5 ½ times around the world

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have been well represented of late in Iraq. Until the end of March, the Commander Multinational Division Southeast, based in Basra, was Major General Andy Salmon Royal Marines, supported by a large contingent of CAF staff.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Iraq police prepare for new responsibilities

Iraqi police are preparing to take charge of security in most of the country's cities as US troops withdraw from urban centers on June 30, but the Iraqi army will help in the most dangerous areas, a senior security official said.

With just weeks to go before Iraqi security forces take sole control of the country's cities, towns and villages, the interior ministry unveiled the main features of a strategy that will see 500,000 police officers deployed across the country.

Eight (provinces) are our sole responsibility and seven others will fall under the joint responsibility of security forces from the defence and interior ministries," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf said.

The army will support the police in the provinces based on Iraq's three main cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, in the predominantly Sunni Arab western province of Al-Anbar, in Diyala and Salaheddin provinces north of the capital and in Karbala to its south.

Khalaf said troops were being deployed in those seven provinces either because of the continuing insecurity of their main towns, or because of their economic or religious significance.

In the case of Baghdad, 70 percent of the capital falls under our control, and the rest will be secured by the army," Khalaf said. "We will fill the vacant space left by the departure of the Americans.

We can, according to the agreement, ask for the presence of American forces to help us but we have not yet done so, even in Mosul and Diyala," he said, referring to a defense pact between Baghdad and Washington that has governed the presence of US troops since the start of the year.

Insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda remain active in both Mosul and Diyala, where levels of violence are much higher than most of the rest of the country.

In the past three years, the interior ministry has accelerated the formation of the police force, helped in part by a priority allocation in this year's budget.

In the run-up to the June 30 deadline, the process has quickened further -- 11,000 new police officers took their oaths of allegiance in May.

Nine divisions have been deployed-four made up of national police, including elite troops, and five of border guards.

The force numbers will give Iraq a ratio of one police officer for every 134 inhabitants. By comparison, France has one police officer for every 252 inhabitants and Canada one for every 537.

The Iraqi security forces will also gradually take responsibility for patrolling the country's 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) of borders, where some 700 observation posts have been erected.

By mid-2010, we hope to control the entire border with Iran," Khalaf said. Interior ministry officials have said that Shiite militias continue to smuggle arms across Iraq's eastern frontier but Khalaf insisted that the western border with Syria was now well secured.

Where once there was "one border post every 15 km, there is now one every 1.5 km," he said. US Colonel Bryan Bequette said: "We are proud of the accomplishments the ministry of interior has achieved with its training program.

He said the program had moved Iraq "toward the goal of police primacy, where the Iraqi police maintain primary responsibility... in the cities." Khalaf acknowledged that the Iraqi police still had some deficiencies.

We lack equipment for air support, arms and other military equipment provided by the United States," he said. But he added: "I don't think the threat will evolve-the attacks remain urban, and against the Iraqi population. The terrorists will not exclusively target American soldiers." --- AFP

Iraq carries on preparations for US pull out

The image of the post withdrawal period from Iraqi cities and Provinces at the end of the current month started to become clearer day after day especially on the security level.

National Command Central Chief Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf said that police forces constituted of 500000 policemen will take care of the security responsibilities in all the towns and cities and provinces after the withdrawal of the US forces.

Khalaf said that police will take full responsibility in 7 big provinces in the areas situated in the middle and south of Iraq. Khalaf added that the same forces are going to be charged of security along with Iraqi army and that in 8 regions which are: Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salah Addin, Karbala and Basra.

The regions in which maintaining security will be shared enjoy a political and economic importance such as Basra and Kirkuk while some others did not reach security stability until now.

Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf stressed that the Iraqi forces will fill the vacuum that would be left by the withdrawal of the US forces, according to the security agreement.

Nine units of Iraqi police including 4 Commandos units and 5 units of borders forces will be deployed. He also uttered hopes that by the middle of next year Iraq will be able to impose full control on its borders with Iran pointing out that the situation on the border with Syria is better especially after deploying checkpoints all along the border on each 1.5 km.

Khalaf also pointed out that Iraqi forces need the support of the US forces since they don’t have developed equipments and they need the support of air forces, as well as they need arms and US expertise.

Friday, June 5, 2009

British Challenger main battle tanks return home from Iraq

After six years of service in Iraq, seven 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tanks started their three-week sea voyage back to the UK this week.

The Challenger tanks, 51 armoured vehicles and 162 containers full of other British military equipment that has been used in Iraq left Kuwait's Shuaiba Port onboard the container cargo ship MV Hurst Point on Wednesday 3 June 2009.

Since the end of UK combat operations in Iraq, a specialist logistics headquarters, the Joint Force Logistic Component or JFLogC, has been in Kuwait and Iraq co-ordinating the massive effort to inspect, pack and return six-years-worth of military hardware to the UK.

The number of military shipping containers that need to be shipped home is so great in fact that if every one sent out of Iraq was stacked in a Jenga tower it would rise over two-and-a-half miles (4km) above the desert.

Good order and value for money are the watchwords for the JFLogC which has instigated a number of innovations to make sure equipment from simple stationery to the 72-tonne tanks leaving this week can be reused as quickly as possible on return to the UK.

JFLogC's Commander in Iraq, Brigadier Paul Stearns Royal Marines, said: "Withdrawing equipment after operations is not something we've always given our fullest attention to. Today's military equipment is at a premium, it is high spec, high quality and high value. It's vital we get it to its next home fully refurbished or put on the shelf ready for use again as quickly as possible. The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in our equipment and my team are acutely aware of this. It is my job to protect that investment."