Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Longridge major's Basra duties

AS British Forces end their combat operations in Iraq, one Longridge soldier has been talking about his time serving in Basra.

Major Jim Faux, A-Company, 5 Rifles, is based at British Forward Operating Base (FOB) Oxford, nestled on the bank of the Qarmat Ali waterway in Southern Iraq.

It is a primitive and deceptively isolated camp and soldiers of 5th Battalion The Rifles (5 Rifles), an armoured infantry unit, spend seven days at a time in the camp three miles north of Contingency Operating Base (COB) Basra, living on rations and sleeping under mosquito nets.

There is room in the tents for a single platoon of around 27 men, as well as five or six royal engineers - the latter responsible for six boats moored at the site, used to take 5 Rifles soldiers out on patrol on nearby Leaf Island.

And it is these patrols which have proved crucially successful in the stabilisation of the province.
FOB Oxford's primary role is to deter what the men call indirect fire - essentially rocket and mortar attacks launched from Leaf Island on to the COB.

Since the base was set up, not a single rocket has been launched from the area.
Major Faux said: "The place is very busy, but the blokes love it. They're out and about doing something.

"No patrol is the same. They know the ground very well now, they can easily pick up anything abnormal."

Interaction with the local population on Leaf Island is at the centre of operations from FOB Oxford. As well as being stopped and searched, 5 Rifles are able to gather valuable information about potential threats.

Major Faux said: "The locals know we're here. They come in and tell us 'there's a bad man in the area'. They realise we're providing security.

"Just three weeks ago a guy came in and took us to a rocket found on the island. It was ready to launch."

The men have certainly made the base their own.

A map of the surrounding waterways has been meticulously laid out using blue J-Cloths, with premiership football teams used to identify certain points, in place of complicated co-ordinates.
They have even adopted a stray dog, dubbed "D-For, as in D For Dog."

A makeshift gym lies in one corner, not far from one of three armed sangars - looking posts - set up on the perimeter of the base.

When they have time to spare, the men will sit around the cooking pot fire, play cards or sometimes chess.

But FOB Oxford will not stand for much longer.

Capt Steve Morte has been tasked with scaling it down now that combat operations have ended.
He said: "The base has been very effective. But southern Iraq is a different place now. So we're here to bring it all down."

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