Thursday, April 2, 2009
The commander who this week led the withdrawal of troops from Iraq says it is good to be home after landing in Portsmouth.
Major-General Andy Salmon handed military command of the southern province of Basra to the US Army in a ceremony that marked the beginning of the end of Britain's controversial involvement in the Middle Eastern state. Twenty-four hours later he arrived by helicopter at Whale Island, Portsmouth.
Maj-Gen Salmon said their work in Iraq had been an 'incredibly positive'.
'As a result of our work and following our predecessors we have built a foundation for Basra so the people can look forward and make a more stable future where they can have jobs and see developments for their children's future,' he said.
'We worked hard to understand what the needs of the people were and what the Iraqis wanted. We did all these things and the results have been incredibly positive. I can put my hand on my heart and say we've finished this right.'
Since the 2003 US-led invasion, 179 British personnel have died in Iraq and many more have been injured.
Maj-Gen Salmon said that by October last year they could sense a difference in how local people felt more secure.
'Some were saying to us that they had never experienced such freedom for 30 years,' he said. 'They were starting to enjoy themselves and life was getting back to normal.'
In January there were local elections, which Maj-Gen Salmon said had been satisfying.
'The people had safe, secure, fair and free elections and the green shoots were developing.
'We have got a great foundation. It's going to need considerable hard work by the coalition forces, members of the international community, the Iraqi security forces, politicians and the people now to work together and keep it going.'
Maj-Gen Salmon and his command team left Basra at 4.30pm UK time on Tuesday and flew to RAF Brize Norton, Oxfordshire, before moving on to Portsmouth to be reunited with their families.
Maj-Gen Salmon said: 'It feels really great to be back with the family, and the weather here is fantastic.
'We will probably have chance to reflect on the achievements.'
COMBAT OPERATIONS TO CEASE
The withdrawal of British troops from Iraq began when Major-General Andy Salmon handed military command of Basra to the US Army.
There are still 4,100 British troops in Iraq but they will halt combat operations on May 31 and all but about 400 of them will be withdrawn by July 31.
The handover ceremony in Basra on Tuesday opened with a piper leading the dignitaries to their seats, followed by a performance from the Royal Marines Band.
After prayers and speeches, the pennant of Maj-Gen Salmon's Combined Amphibious Forces was lowered and the pennant of the US Army's 10th Mountain Division was raised.
The most senior US commander in Iraq, General Ray Odierno, said the handover was a testament to the success of the UK forces.