Wednesday, April 29, 2009


Lt Col Mike Smith, 41, is the commander of the Army's Joint Helicopter Force in Basra.

He returned to the city in mid-March, after previously having briefly been there in 2008 and spending four months on a tour in 2004.

He describes the situation in 2004 as "stark".

"That time was one of the lowest ebbs in the campaign. You had the perception that people were surviving and getting by with very little.

"Now Basra is becoming secure and prosperous and it feels like a different country. The optimism is tangible.

"We fly around at a low level and we can see that people are really living now. From the air we can see electricity pylons, with the wires connected, and people have their lights on.

"More people are out fishing and farming. The crew in our helicopters, who man the guns and keep a lookout, spend a lot of their time waving back at the locals.

"It's a completely different situation to the one in 2004 and to see it having come out the other side is fantastic.

"The Iraqis are in control and leading the operations now, and there's a private satisfaction that we've done the job that we were asked to do."

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