Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Football and tomfoolery: British troops lark about with Iraqi children during their final Basra patrols - Daily Mail
British troops in Iraq are carrying out some of their final patrols before ending combat operations and returning home after more than six years in the country.
As the remaining 3,700 or so UK servicemen and women stationed in the southern province of Basra prepare to pull out, they are reflecting on what they have achieved in Iraq.
The men of 15 Squadron RAF Regiment are proud of the rapport they have built up with local Iraqis on their regular patrols around the main coalition base next to Basra International Airport.
They are tasked with protecting the security of the airfield so RAF planes can safely take off and land into Basra.
Troops from 15 Squadron went out on patrol yesterday in the swampy area north of the base populated by marsh Arabs who are generally farmers and fishermen.
Having stopped their Bulldog armoured vehicles in the tiny village of Al Houta, they played football with an excited gaggle of local children.
Several of the youngsters ran rings around the British servicemen, who pointed out they were heavily weighed down with their body armour, guns and radios.
The troops then stopped at the local sheikh's house to share tea and listen to his concerns - although they pointed out that the Americans would soon be in a better position to help him.
Squadron Leader Chris Berryman, officer commanding 15 Squadron, said: 'These days it's less about deterrent, and more about interacting with local people.'
Senior Aircraftsman Chris Dunn, 20, from Maidstone, Kent, went straight from training on to his first operational tour in Iraq.
He said: 'This is about finding out how they are, and also if possible finding out if there are any insurgents in the area or anything like that.'
Letting some of the local children look down the sights of his rifle, he added: 'They're pretty friendly.
'You do get a lot of touching, but I think it's more out of curiosity than anything.'
SAC Dunn is now looking forward to being deployed to Afghanistan in December next year.
Al Houta resident Naseem Ashur was grim about the prospects for people in his village.
He said: 'Life is difficult. There are no jobs at all, there are not many fish.'
But he lit up when asked how he felt about the imminent withdrawal of UK troops.
'I want them to stay. The British are better than the Iraqis,' he said.
'The British forces brought the sand to help us build this land five years ago.
'The Iraqi government didn't do any projects for us to reduce the problems of our people. The British forces did all those projects.'
The patrol then went on to the village of Al Khora, where the RAF Regiment funded the building of a new school in 2005.
The troops were held up on the way back after they spotted streaks of tracer fire in the sky, but it turned out to be from a shooting range on the base.
British forces handed over military command in Basra to the US Army at the end of March and will complete the withdrawal of combat troops by July 31, leaving only about 400 UK personnel in Iraq.