The convoy, escorted by the men of D Squadron, Queen’s Royal Hussars (QRH), was met at the border by an Iraqi general who paid tribute to British Forces, saying: “Thank you for all that you have given Iraq”.
Speaking through a translator, Brigadier Bilal Saleh Shkur, the Commander of the Iraqi Army’s 51st Brigade, told Lieutenant Colonel Chris Coles, the Commanding Officer of the QRH: “Congratulations to all your comrades. Hopefully this will be your last mission.”
The Germany-based cavalrymen had spent the first 5 months of this operational deployment concentrating their efforts as a Military Transition Team (MiTT), training and mentoring Brigadier Bilal’s troops from the 51st Brigade’s barracks in central Basra.
As the two officers posed for a photograph on the border, Lt Col Coles said: “I think that this part of Iraq is in safe hands and it has been for some time.”
The Iraqi Brigadier replied: “This is your gift, what you have given to Iraq and what you have done in Iraq,” before embracing the Colonel and wishing him a safe journey.
The convoy had departed the Contingency Operating Base some five hours earlier, with protective escorts provided by the Mastiff armoured vehicles of the QRH, as well as by other soldiers from across 20th Armoured Brigade, including 1st Battalion The Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment (1PWRR), 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (1 YORKS) and 1st Royal Tank Regiment (1RTR).
Piper Lee Watson, 23 serving with 1RTR, piped the final British convoy across the border into Kuwait in the early hours of Monday morning. The 93 vehicle convoy of combat vehicles and equipment took 14 minutes to pass though the border, with its load ranging from a huge container-grabbing ‘Wretch’ vehicle to trucks packed with various smaller items.
There was a feeling of satisfaction among the soldiers who were conscious that they were involved in the final Brigade-led operation at the end of the 6-year British military commitment in Iraq, codenamed ‘Operation Telic’.
19-year-old Trooper Luke Pinner serving with the QRH said: “I’m quite proud to be on the last convoy, to be the last troops out of Basra. This is my first tour, so I’ll never forget it. We’ve done the job and we’re leaving.”
Trooper Jamie Ratcliffe, 19 from Stock-on-Trent, added: “I have enjoyed the tour, but I’m glad it’s over. It’s a good feeling knowing that we’ve done our part. Obviously it hasn’t been like any of the other ‘Op Telics’, but I do feel like I’ve made a difference. I am glad I’m here on the last one.”
Lt Col Chris Coles continued: “I was just finishing off some unfinished business, saying farewell to Brig Bilal. We spent five months working alongside him and his brigade before we took on this escort task, so I was very honoured and touched that he made the journey all the way down from Basra just to see us on what you might call ‘the finishing line’.
“It’s always quite nice to be there as a Regiment when things are coming to a close. I know we’ve still got people in theatre, but as a Regiment, I think the Queen’s Royal Hussars can be very content to go home.
“We’ve finished off what a lot of other good men have started and it’s quite a privileged situation to be in to say ‘job done’, and I think job done well.”
The events at the border came just over a week after the Brigade’s flag, ‘The Iron Fist’, had been lowered in a transfer of authority ceremony in Basra. Over the next couple of weeks, the few remaining troops from 20 Armd Bde will return to their barracks across Germany and the UK as they complete the final withdrawal of all personnel and equipment the last combat brigade from Iraq.
Speaking from Kuwait after the final convoy had arrived in the UK base at Camp Buehring, logistician Lt Col Peter Smith, CO of 1 Logistic Support Regiment (1LSR), explained: “What we’ve achieved is like dismantling the town of Shrivenham, moving it across the M4 and reassembling it in Cardiff.”
“A staggering amount of kit has been moved – it’s twelve tour’s worth of equipment that has gone. And then of course since the first of May, since there have been no combat operations in Iraq, we’ve been far more aggressive in returning back to the United Kingdom and Germany all of those items that can be used again.
“It’s been very satisfying; it’s not every day that you get the opportunity to extract British Forces from a theatre and it’s particularly satisfying for 1LSR. 1LSR was here at the beginning for ‘Telic 1’ and it’s nice to be the regiment that is extracting 20 Brigade and all British Forces from Iraq.”
The Brigade’s progress can be followed online at www.twitter.com/theironfist