Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Sandstorm blasts UK troops in Kuwait

British troops in Kuwait and Iraq are being blasted by a fierce sandstorm which for the last 48 hours has made their work of bringing UK kit home from Iraq almost impossible.

With winds of over 52mph whipping up the sand in temperatures of 47 degrees, the logistic force, ensuring that six years' worth of combat equipment returns from Iraq in good order, are battling with terrible working conditions, but they are still managing to get some work done.

Private Simon Ameet Limbu says as he takes an hourly atmospheric reading:

"It's like standing in an oven, in a wind tunnel, and on the beach all at the same time."

Private Limbu is a Combat Medical Technician from 4 Medical Regiment based in Aldershot who are manning the medical centre for the Joint Force Logistic Component (JFLogC).

He and others provide the medical care for 500 troops split between Iraq and Kuwait. They are bringing out the remainder of the kit and equipment from Iraq following the end of combat operations in April this year:

"We hear on the news that they are experiencing a heat wave in Britain at 33 degrees. That's nothing! It's hotter than that in the middle of the night here," he added.

"It's tough, but it's not impossible. We get issued top spec goggles that keep the sand out and we're all pretty well acclimatised now. We just work at a pace that suits the heat and take in as much water as possible. The Army have even given me a Camelback drinking system to keep my fluid levels up in the heat of the day."

Captain Ned Brown, a pilot from the Joint Helicopter Force, said it was a tough day to fly in:

"The helicopters are modified to fly in the sand but there comes a point when it just becomes impossible."

He explained that planning ahead can beat the weather:

"We knew it was going to be a tough day weather-wise so we got our business done in a weather window this morning."

Meanwhile troops from the specially deployed Theatre Drawdown Unit continue in their mammoth task of accounting, checking, packing and moving thousands of items of equipment either back to the UK or to Afghanistan. Many of them working in the open.

The storm is forecast to continue for the next few days.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Rebuilding Iraq: the role of IT staff

IT contractor Peter Moore has been held hostage in Iraq for over two years.

His plight has highlighted the dangers facing ordinary workers and civilians living and working in the country. Even aid agencies have deemed the situation too perilous, and most moved their staff out years ago.

There are 31 million Iraqis in the country, as well as thousands of contractors and military staff, including technology workers working on projects that will play a crucial role in the rebuilding of the country.

The war decimated much of the country's infrastructure, including the telecommunications network and any hope of a reliable internet.

Some restructuring work is underway, but Gartner analyst Vittorio Dorazio predicts it will be at least five years before Iraq sees any real changes.

Many would consider technology as relatively low down the list of priorities in a country that does not have enough doctors or schools. But IT will be a crucial part of improving basic living standards.

Building records and systems

IT company EMC is working in Iraq through its business partners. Mohammed Amin, regional manager for EMC Middle East, said IT is central to providing public services and standards of living.

"IT has to work in parallel with building roads and schools, and improving transport and healthcare," he said. "These developments need records and systems. You need healthcare databases, and systems are needed to determine who is eligible for new passports and citizenship, for example."

The main areas of activity are telecoms, government and the banking sector, which is now starting to re-awaken. Most telecoms investment is going into mobile communications, because landline networks are more cumbersome and expensive. The government, with help from oil revenues, is investing large amounts in basic infrastructure equipment and in archiving government information.

"There are so many documents from the past 30 years which are very important - they detail how to run the country, how to handle the security situation, how to control Iraq's borders. They need a huge archiving system," Amin said.

Full of potential

Despite the hurdles that Iraq will no doubt have to get past, there is plenty of activity and potential, according to Dorazio.

"The Iraqi IT industry is definitely growing, despite the crisis. There are small companies, but you don't see large companies. It is in a very early stage. The fighting is even now ongoing and it is very hard to provide a service when the overall infrastructure is disrupted," he said.

EMC's Amin agrees the security situation is still a problem. EMC has considered opening an office in the safer northern part of Iraq, but has had to put its plans on hold after a resurgence of violence in the past couple of months.

Progress on security is still being made. Large IT companies and consultancies, such as PricewaterhouseCoopers, do business in Iraq and transfer knowledge to the country.

The armed forces have also played a big role in training up the Iraqi security forces in all kinds of skills, ready for the UK's departure in July this year.

Lt Col Jon Cole, commander of joint forces for communications and information systems in Iraq, said, "We have assisted with training the Iraqi forces so we are not leaving them in the lurch. There is also a small British army presence that is staying in the country, at the invitation of the Iraqi government, to help with training."

The army, navy and airforce have worked in partnership with local contractors throughout their six years in the country, although the military operations have been self-contained and will have had little impact on civilians. In mid-March the information systems engineers started winding down the military IT operations in Iraq, and they expect to be finished in mid-July.

Throughout the war, IT and communications have been a central part of military operations. "It is absolutely crucial," Cole says. "More and more equipment that comes into service is technologically far superior than in previous generations. Command and control officers use large screens and advanced systems to keep track of where soldiers and vehicles are. If the IT is not working, a patrol will not go out - it is as simple as that."

Once the military has moved out, the UK government will help reconstruction efforts through the Provincial Reconstruction Team, based in Basra. There is a long way to go, but hopes are high that Iraq could one day become a technological hub in the Middle East.

"First, we need stability," says Dorazio. "But Iraq could really leapfrog other countries in terms of technology. Back offices will not be constrained by legacy systems, and people starting businesses can get the newest technology. There is a massive amount of potential."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Anna-Lee the brains behind Forces day

Major Anna-Lee Johnston, who is currently in command of 9 Armoured Company, part of 4 Close Support Battalion REME based in Bordon, is organising the first Armed Forces Day in Kuwait on Saturday.

Major Johnston (34), is responsible for the work of more than 50 Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers personnel who are repairing vehicles in Iraq and Kuwait and preparing them to be sent back to Britain in good order, now that the UK combat missions in Iraq have finished.

The unit has so far overseen the movement of around 5,000 containers and shipped more than 600 vehicles – from quad bikes to Challenger Two main battle tanks – back to the UK.

All the kit being returned to Britain is quickly refurbished and either redistributed or 'put on the shelf' ready for reuse at a later date.

The REME is part of the force of more than 600 personnel in Iraq and the Kuwait Support Facility at Camp Buehring near Kuwait City, supporting the withdrawal of combat kit in good order from Iraq.

When not busy at her 'day job', Major Johnston is organising a day of events to celebrate Armed Forces Day in Kuwait.

She said: "It's important to remember servicemen and women past and present and our Armed Forces Day will be a celebration for them. It will also be a landmark in our deployment in Kuwait and gives the guys something to look forward to."

Major Johnston joined REME in 1997 after gaining a Masters Degree at Cranfield University. Since then, she has enjoyed an exciting career, serving in Germany, Cyprus, Canada, the Balkans and Afghanistan.

l The British Army have finished combat operations in Iraq and are currently bringing their personnel, kit and equipment home, to be out of the country by Friday, July 31.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

RAF Merlin helicopters continue to operate in Iraq

Joint Helicopter Force (Iraq) continues to operate three Royal Air Force Merlin helicopters to provide the lift and shift capability for British forces in Iraq.

Flown by RAF aircrew, with support elements from the Army, Navy and RAF, helicopters remain the movement and logistic workhorse of choice to ensure the drawdown of forces from Iraq in good order.

Although UK combat operations were successfully completed at the end of April, the men and women of the Joint Helicopter Force are still flying operational sorties into Iraq every day. They are supporting the Joint Force Logistic Component, a specialist logistic team charged with bringing UK forces and equipment home from Iraq in good order.

In full body armour and flying tactical profiles constantly honed through the conflict thus far each Merlin takes off with twin front and one rear-facing General Purpose Machine Guns and over 1000 rounds of ammunition for each flight. Flares are carried and fired to protect against the possibility of heat-seeking missiles. At night they are often required to fly low level across a featureless desert with only Night Vision Goggles to aid their final descent into tight landing areas, often bristling with unlit masts and pylons.

“One of the biggest challenges here is the weather” said pilot Flight Lieutenant Mike Barclay, “it can be fine gin clear at take off but in less than 5 minutes the wind can whip up the sand into a ferocious storm, making a landing impossible. We have to be ready to make some swift decisions when that happens.

“The Merlin is a fantastic helicopter, but like any helicopter the heat presents its own challenges. We cannot lift the same payload we can in UK for example, this means careful planning and co-ordination is a constant feature of our activity” said Capt Ned Brown, an Army pilot who is Operations Officer for the Force.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Iraq receives Italian-built fast patrol boat

Iraq on Saturday took delivery of the first of four Italian-made patrol ships it has ordered, as part of a plan to treble the country's naval forces in the coming years.

Iraq's navy is rebuilding itself after being destroyed in the 1991 Gulf War and the 2003 US-led invasion.

It now has about 2,000 sailors, and defence chiefs have said they aim to boost its manpower to 6,500 in the next two to three years.

The Fatah, which can mean to conquer or victory in Arabic, is a Saettia MK4-class fast patrol ship that will be used to patrol Iraq's economic zone and in search-and-rescue missions.

It set sail after its completion at the Fincantieri shipyard in La Spezia, Italy, a month ago, with three other such fast patrol boats due to be delivered at a rate of one every three months.

In total, the four ships are worth 80 million euros (110 million dollars), with each measuring some 54 metres (177 feet) long, weighing 390 tonnes, and attaining a speed of 23 knots with crews of 38.

The Fatah was escorted variously by Italian, American and British warships during its journey through the Mediterranean Sea, the Suez Canal, the pirate-filled waters of the Gulf of Aden and the Strait of Hormuz, officials said.

The long voyage from Italy was be the first time the new navy has travelled outside Arabian waters, and is the first such journey for the force in decades.

Military matters: A luggage mountain two and a half miles high - The Times

Deborah Haynes, Defence Correspondent

The Iraq mission is over for Britain’s combat troops, but hundreds of support soldiers are still hard at work destroying, selling or transporting out of the country six years of military kit, in a quiet reverse of the 2003 invasion.

It is the biggest logistical challenge that Group Captain Richard Hill, Deputy Commander of the Joint Force Logistic Component, has ever faced.

“Having the opportunity to bring the whole headquarters to do a theatre extraction and drawdown, that’s very interesting and rewarding,” he told The Times from a US camp in Kuwait, where the military removals force is based.

From Challenger tanks and Lynx helicopters to socks and boots, everything has to be accounted for. The 1,000-strong team dealt with equipment needed for combat missions in Afghanistan first, including Mastiff armoured vehicles and devices to counter the threat of roadside bombs.

British Forces have amassed mountains of gear since they rolled over the border from Kuwait in March 2003. If every ISO container was stacked on top of each other it would stand more than two and a half miles above the desert.

The majority of the equipment, including computers, tables, chairs, Land Rover Discoveries and tents, ended up at the Contingency Operating Base, a sprawling camp just outside Basra city, where thousands of US troops are now located after some 4,000 British forces pulled out.

In an operation dreamt up last summer and put into action earlier this year, the military assesses every item to decide what needs to be brought back to Britain or a British base in Germany, what can be left behind and what should be destroyed.

The 5,000 ISO containers, stacked up like Lego bricks at the Basra base, are central to the mission. However, it transpired that many had deteriorated over the years under the burning Iraqi sun. So, in a novel attempt to recoup cash, the logistics team filled some of these cast-offs with other unwanted items — such as army towels and rolls of barbed wire — and sold them though a private contractor at auction to local Iraqi businessmen.

The rest of the damaged ISO containers were sold for scrap metal. The military also flogged other piece of kit, such as a number of the Land Rover Discoveries and pick-up trucks, because it would have been more expensive to ship them back. In total, the troops raised more than £1 million through the sell-off.

The remainder of the gear, anything from generators to air-conditioned dog kennels, is bound for home. Night after night, long lines of convoys make the 185-mile journey from Basra to the Kuwaiti camp and then on to the port, laden with ISO containers packed with kit as well as trucks laden with combat vehicles.

Up until May 11, the convoys were run by the British military, but as troop numbers decline — there are only about 50 military personnel left in Basra — the remainder of the gear is hitching a ride with US convoys.

Even some helicopters are driven out by road. Warrior armoured vehicles are stripped down and loaded up. They are destined for Britain for a complete overhaul.

Members of the logistics team in Kuwait go through the containers, assessing the kit before it is loaded into cargo ships — private roll-on-roll-off ferries rented by the Ministry of Defence.

In the latest departure, MV Hurst Point is due to dock in Marchwood next week after setting off from Shuaiba port in Kuwait at the start of the month. The ship is carrying 200 ISO containers packed with gear and 51 armoured vehicles.

Sergeant Justin Crocker, 28, from Wales, helps to load the vehicles on to the boats. “We just make sure that they get on the boat without any accidents,” he said, adding that each vessel takes about eight hours to load. Soldiers have to unload and check the kit inside the containers in temperatures up to 60C/140F.

“It is interesting. I have never done a tour like this,” Sergeant Crocker said. “It is a bit of a weird tour for us.”

In a symbol of the Iraq exit, British Forces handed back the sand-coloured stone building that served as their headquarters in Basra for the past six years to the Iraqi authorities on Monday. It is one of the last British-occupied buildings in the south to be returned.

“I am not a sentimental chap,” said Group Captain Hill, who attended the handover. “It was the final act as far as the Iraqis were concerned of the British Forces’ extraction from Iraq.”

The building, which is situated close to Basra airport, is expected to be converted into a hotel or a conference centre.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

British forces hand over Basra HQ building to Iraqis

Some of the last British forces based in Basra handed back the former headquarters building of the to the authorities at Basra International Airport.

The building, a former hotel sited near the main airport terminal, was handed over to the airport's director, Mr Ameer at a ceremony yesterday as part of the ongoing withdrawal of the British forces.

The building was an unfinished shell when coalition forces arrived in 2003 but the UK has since carried out millions of dollars worth of work to make the building habitable.

British Forces are now leaving Iraq in accordance with the UK's security agreement with the Iraqi government. The Airport authorities will now decide on any future use of the building

The building has been the work place of thousands of coalition personnel over the past six years as well as civilian staff from the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and UK Department for International Development. This building represented the very heart of the UK's efforts to make Iraq, and particularly Basra, a safer and more prosperous place.

Monday, June 15, 2009

RAF Tactical Supply Wing returns from Iraq

A highly specialised unit within the Joint Helicopter Command, the RAF Tactical Supply Wing, which has been refuelling battlefield helicopters in Iraq for the last six years, has now come home. Report by Neale Adams.

Battlefield helicopters will not fly unless the RAF Tactical Supply Wing (TSW) is on operations to make it happen.

The best mechanics and pilots can ensure an aircraft is airworthy or flown well, but without fuel the war bird stays on the ground.

Usually the first in and some of the last to leave operational areas, personnel from the TSW literally 'dig in' to establish and maintain a battlefield fuel capability to keep the helicopters in the air to move troops and equipment and, where necessary, extract casualties.

The fuel depots are a high-level target. In 2006 a major offensive by local insurgents against the Forward Operating Base at Al Amarah saw a direct mortar strike on a TSW rubber storage tank, resulting in the loss of 94,000 litres of aviation fuel.

Two days later, during a further bombardment, refuelling hoses were set on fire, but the swift action of the TSW detachment prevented a further loss of fuel and allowed helicopter operations to continue.

Moreover fuel and replacement equipment was rapidly redeployed from the main operating base in order to swiftly re-establish TSW's full operational capability.

In another incident a General Service Tanker containing 28,000 litres of fuel suffered a direct hit, resulting in the total loss of the vehicle.

During the same period TSW personnel continued to refuel aircraft while coming under fire, to ensure that the aircraft were able to take off and counter the threat.

In recognition of the dedication and bravery of the TSW personnel, two members were awarded the General Officer Commanding Commendation for their actions.

This article is taken from an edition of RAF News - Voice of The Royal Air Force.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Royal Marine brings kit home from Iraq

A local senior Royal Marines officer, who is Commander British Forces in Iraq, is leading the huge operation to bring home six-years-worth of operational equipment from Iraq in good order.

Brigadier Paul Stearns, is the commander of the Joint Force Logistics Component, a specialist headquarters that can be deployed anywhere in the world to support UK operations.

His headquarters of 25 staff is currently in the Iraqi desert, overseeing the removal of more than 4000 combat troops, 5000 containers of kit and more than 1000 vehicles – from quad bikes to the 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tank from Kuwait.

The operation has been ongoing since before the completion of UK combat operations in Iraq was announced in April and is now well under way.

Their aim is not only to recover all the combat kit used in operations in Basra Province but to make sure it is done in good order and as efficiently as possible.

Brigadier Paul explained: ‘Today’s military equipment is at a premium, it is high quality and high value. It’s vital we get it to its next home fully refurbished or put on the shelf ready for use again as quickly as possible.

‘’The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in our equipment and my team are acutely aware of this. It is my job to protect that investment.“

Most of the equipment has left for the UK on a fleet of military container ships leased by the Ministry of Defence. By the end of the operation they will have moved

Monday, June 8, 2009

Naval Service pitches in to bring Iraq kit home

The Naval Service is well-represented in the team leading the massive operation to bring home six-years-worth of equipment from Iraq in good order.

Brigadier Paul Stearns Royal Marines is the Commander of the Joint Force Logistic Component, the specialist headquarters currently deployed to Kuwait and Iraq.

There are around 80 matelots currently serving in theatre, from Baghdad to Um Qasr and Kuwait.

And there is plenty of dark blue among his headquarters staff of 25, based in the Kuwait Support Facility situated in the desert around 100 km outside Kuwait City

They are supporting the recovery of 5000 containers of kit and more than 1000 vehicles – from quad bikes to the 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tank - from Kuwait.

Their task is not only to recover all the combat kit used in operations in Basra Province but to make sure it is done in good order and as efficiently as possible.

Most of the equipment has left for the UK on a fleet of military container ships leased by the Ministry of Defence and manned by RNR sponsored reservists.

By the end of the operation they will have moved

• More vehicles than in the bus fleets serving Bristol and Bath

• Around 5000 containers – enough to build a Jenga tower 2 ½ miles high

• 102 convoys were needed to bring the equipment out of Basra to the port, driving a total distance equivalent to 5 ½ times around the world

The Royal Navy and Royal Marines have been well represented of late in Iraq. Until the end of March, the Commander Multinational Division Southeast, based in Basra, was Major General Andy Salmon Royal Marines, supported by a large contingent of CAF staff.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Iraq police prepare for new responsibilities

Iraqi police are preparing to take charge of security in most of the country's cities as US troops withdraw from urban centers on June 30, but the Iraqi army will help in the most dangerous areas, a senior security official said.

With just weeks to go before Iraqi security forces take sole control of the country's cities, towns and villages, the interior ministry unveiled the main features of a strategy that will see 500,000 police officers deployed across the country.

Eight (provinces) are our sole responsibility and seven others will fall under the joint responsibility of security forces from the defence and interior ministries," interior ministry spokesman Brigadier General Abdel Karim Khalaf said.

The army will support the police in the provinces based on Iraq's three main cities of Baghdad, Basra and Mosul, in the predominantly Sunni Arab western province of Al-Anbar, in Diyala and Salaheddin provinces north of the capital and in Karbala to its south.

Khalaf said troops were being deployed in those seven provinces either because of the continuing insecurity of their main towns, or because of their economic or religious significance.

In the case of Baghdad, 70 percent of the capital falls under our control, and the rest will be secured by the army," Khalaf said. "We will fill the vacant space left by the departure of the Americans.

We can, according to the agreement, ask for the presence of American forces to help us but we have not yet done so, even in Mosul and Diyala," he said, referring to a defense pact between Baghdad and Washington that has governed the presence of US troops since the start of the year.

Insurgents loyal to Al-Qaeda remain active in both Mosul and Diyala, where levels of violence are much higher than most of the rest of the country.

In the past three years, the interior ministry has accelerated the formation of the police force, helped in part by a priority allocation in this year's budget.

In the run-up to the June 30 deadline, the process has quickened further -- 11,000 new police officers took their oaths of allegiance in May.

Nine divisions have been deployed-four made up of national police, including elite troops, and five of border guards.

The force numbers will give Iraq a ratio of one police officer for every 134 inhabitants. By comparison, France has one police officer for every 252 inhabitants and Canada one for every 537.

The Iraqi security forces will also gradually take responsibility for patrolling the country's 3,600 kilometres (2,250 miles) of borders, where some 700 observation posts have been erected.

By mid-2010, we hope to control the entire border with Iran," Khalaf said. Interior ministry officials have said that Shiite militias continue to smuggle arms across Iraq's eastern frontier but Khalaf insisted that the western border with Syria was now well secured.

Where once there was "one border post every 15 km, there is now one every 1.5 km," he said. US Colonel Bryan Bequette said: "We are proud of the accomplishments the ministry of interior has achieved with its training program.

He said the program had moved Iraq "toward the goal of police primacy, where the Iraqi police maintain primary responsibility... in the cities." Khalaf acknowledged that the Iraqi police still had some deficiencies.

We lack equipment for air support, arms and other military equipment provided by the United States," he said. But he added: "I don't think the threat will evolve-the attacks remain urban, and against the Iraqi population. The terrorists will not exclusively target American soldiers." --- AFP

Iraq carries on preparations for US pull out

The image of the post withdrawal period from Iraqi cities and Provinces at the end of the current month started to become clearer day after day especially on the security level.

National Command Central Chief Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf said that police forces constituted of 500000 policemen will take care of the security responsibilities in all the towns and cities and provinces after the withdrawal of the US forces.

Khalaf said that police will take full responsibility in 7 big provinces in the areas situated in the middle and south of Iraq. Khalaf added that the same forces are going to be charged of security along with Iraqi army and that in 8 regions which are: Baghdad, Anbar, Diyala, Kirkuk, Nineveh, Salah Addin, Karbala and Basra.

The regions in which maintaining security will be shared enjoy a political and economic importance such as Basra and Kirkuk while some others did not reach security stability until now.

Brigadier General Abdul Karim Khalaf stressed that the Iraqi forces will fill the vacuum that would be left by the withdrawal of the US forces, according to the security agreement.

Nine units of Iraqi police including 4 Commandos units and 5 units of borders forces will be deployed. He also uttered hopes that by the middle of next year Iraq will be able to impose full control on its borders with Iran pointing out that the situation on the border with Syria is better especially after deploying checkpoints all along the border on each 1.5 km.

Khalaf also pointed out that Iraqi forces need the support of the US forces since they don’t have developed equipments and they need the support of air forces, as well as they need arms and US expertise.

Friday, June 5, 2009

British Challenger main battle tanks return home from Iraq

After six years of service in Iraq, seven 72-tonne Challenger Two main battle tanks started their three-week sea voyage back to the UK this week.

The Challenger tanks, 51 armoured vehicles and 162 containers full of other British military equipment that has been used in Iraq left Kuwait's Shuaiba Port onboard the container cargo ship MV Hurst Point on Wednesday 3 June 2009.

Since the end of UK combat operations in Iraq, a specialist logistics headquarters, the Joint Force Logistic Component or JFLogC, has been in Kuwait and Iraq co-ordinating the massive effort to inspect, pack and return six-years-worth of military hardware to the UK.

The number of military shipping containers that need to be shipped home is so great in fact that if every one sent out of Iraq was stacked in a Jenga tower it would rise over two-and-a-half miles (4km) above the desert.

Good order and value for money are the watchwords for the JFLogC which has instigated a number of innovations to make sure equipment from simple stationery to the 72-tonne tanks leaving this week can be reused as quickly as possible on return to the UK.

JFLogC's Commander in Iraq, Brigadier Paul Stearns Royal Marines, said: "Withdrawing equipment after operations is not something we've always given our fullest attention to. Today's military equipment is at a premium, it is high spec, high quality and high value. It's vital we get it to its next home fully refurbished or put on the shelf ready for use again as quickly as possible. The taxpayer has invested a lot of money in our equipment and my team are acutely aware of this. It is my job to protect that investment."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Flypast marks RAF tankers' farewell to Iraq

CREWS from 101 Squadron came home to RAF Brize Norton tonight after almost 19 years serving in the Middle East.

A flypast of the squadron’s VC10 tanker aircraft was held at the base at Carterton to mark the return home of the air-to-air refuelling unit, which was first deployed to the region in 1990 in the build-up to the first Gulf War.

Its crews also saw service in the skies above Afghanistan and Iraq, refuelling British and allied aircraft on combat patrols following the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US in 2001 and the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Wing Commander Steve Lushington, the squadron’s commanding officer, said: “The past 18 years have shown the incredible capability and versatility of the VC10 force.

“Circumstances naturally change, we stand ready to provide our world-renowned service and go to wherever it is required.

“We look forward to the future and hope to further contribute to the illustrious and enviable record of 101 Squadron.”

Flt Lt Chris Haywood, 27, from Carterton was among those returning, after three-and-a-half weeks away. He was reunited with his wife Melanie, 26, and 10-week-old son Oliver.

He said: “It’s good to be back in the UK.”

Mrs Haywood said “It’s nice to see Chris again, and its nice for him to see Oliver again. It’s quite a relief to have him back safely.”

The withdrawal of British forces from Iraq ends the six-year deployment of land forces that began with the overthrow of Saddam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Picture Damian Halliwell l More reaction in tomorrow’s Oxford Mail

DADDY! - Elation as Iraq heroes come home - Mirror

RAF Tornado GR4 flypast at RAF Marham yesterday before landing on home soil

With arms outstretched and a beaming smile, Daddy's home.

Squadron Leader Nathan Giles sweeps up daughter Holly, four, and Edward, two, for their first cuddles in months.

It was a precious moment yesterday after another tough tour of duty in Iraq.

Squadron Leader Giles, 37, said simply: "It's great to be home."

His wife Ann, 38, held back tears as she looked on. She said: "It's nice to have him back - he's been on tour for the last five years.

"And he is off to Afghanistan in a few months."

The Tornado pilot was one of six returning from the Gulf. They staged a flypast before landing to cheers at RAF Marham near King's Lynn, Norfolk. Senior officers and 100 relatives were at the homecoming after one of the RAF's longest deployments and to mark the end of 18 years of ops in Iraq.

But there was disappointment that Armed Forces Minister Bob Ainsworth failed to show. A diary mix-up meant he was at a meeting with MoD Chiefs of Staff.

A soldier was killed in a blast yesterday in Helmand province, Afghanistan, taking the British death toll to 166 since 2001.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

RAF ends 19-year mission in Iraq - BBC

The Royal Air Force will mark the end of nearly 19 years of operations in Iraq when seven aircraft fly personnel back to the UK.

Their families will be waiting at RAF Marham in Norfolk to welcome them home.

Six Tornado jets and a VC10 transport aircraft will fly personnel from Iraq following the end of combat operations.

The RAF has been operating in and over Iraq since 1990 after Saddam Hussein's invasion of Kuwait led to the first Gulf War.

One of the RAF's jobs then was to hunt down and destroy the dictator's notorious Scud missiles.

After the end of the conflict the RAF patrolled the northern and southern no-fly zones.

The RAF played a key role in the 2003 invasion of Iraq and the subsequent six-year British military mission.

Operating from four bases in the Gulf, it has provided support to ground forces and performed an important logistical role.

The RAF said its time in Iraq had helped to stabilise the country. In particular, it said its work to make Basra International Airport "a genuinely international, civilian-run airport" would be "a lasting legacy".

Basra airfield was officially handed over to Iraqi control in January as part of moves to wind down the UK's commitments in the country.

The British military mission in Iraq officially came to a close at the end of April. In May the RAF ensign was lowered at Basra airport.

There will be a fly-past at RAF Marham to mark the return of the last personnel.

The ceremony will also provide an opportunity to remember the 35 personnel who lost their lives during the deployment.

Royal Air Force Waves Farewell To Middle East - Sky

Mark Stone, Sky News reporter
The Royal Air Force today ends the longest overseas deployment in its history.

Following the withdrawal of the British military from Iraq, the RAF's 19-year presence in the Middle East has come to pass.

"This is a significant milestone for the Royal Air Force," Air Chief Marshal Sir Glenn Torpy told Sky News.

"Within days of the initial Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, RAF aircraft deployed to the Middle East to deter further Iraqi aggression.

"And they then played a major role in defeating Iraq's force during the first Gulf War."

"For many in the service, Iraq has dominated the majority of their careers, with some personnel completing more than 20 deployments to the region."

After the end of the conflict the RAF remained in the Middle East. For the next 12 years they patrolled Iraq's northern and southern no-fly zones.

In 2003 they played a vital role in the second invasion of Iraq and have provided support to ground forces in the region ever since.

"There isn't a part of the RAF that has not been involved in one shape or form in these operations, be it in the air or the ground," Sir Glenn said.

"Indeed, for many in the service, Iraq has dominated the majority of their careers, with some personnel completing more than 20 deployments to the region."

Today, the last contingent of that long deployment will return to UK soil.

Six Tornado GR4 fast jets and a VC10 transport aircraft carrying personnel will arrive back at RAF Marham in Norfolk, where their families will be readied to greet them.

The role of the RAF in still-active conflicts like Iraq and Afghanistan is often far less visual than that of their Army colleagues. But without them, ground forces would be unable to operate.

As well as providing aerial support in the form of fighter jets and helicopters, the RAF is the logistical backbone of the British Armed Forces.

It is their helicopters who taxi the troops around, deliver supplies and medivac the injured. With its fleet of passenger aircraft it deploys and repatriates thousands of troops to and from combat zones every six months.

Troops from the RAF Regiment have also provided ground support in Iraq alongside the Army. In 2007, three RAF Regiment Gunners were killed in a mortar attack on Basra Air Station.

In all, 34 RAF personnel have been killed in the 19-year deployment; 22 of them since the start of the 2003 Gulf War. That loss will be recognised at today's ceremony at RAF Marham.

The returning planes will perform a fly-past and among those returning will be airmen who have received prestigious gallantry honours.

As well as conducting aerial and ground combat operations in Iraq, the RAF has helped to develop Basra International Airport. Civilian flights now operate from there to countries including Jordan, Oman and Kuwait.

The mission has not been without controversy though. Southern Iraq is still unstable.

For the last 18 months, British Forces have been largely confined to their bases.

The British may have pulled out now but they have been replaced by American troops who are due to remain in Iraq until 2011.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Heroes welcome for returning Iraq battalion

THE families of Hull soldiers gave a heroes' welcome to some of the last troops to return from a six-month tour of duty in Iraq.

Waving banners and cheering loudly, dozens of wives, parents and children gathered to greet their loved ones who have been responsible for mentoring the Iraqi Army and guarding senior British officials.

The troops, from the 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, are the final soldiers to return from the British Army's 20th Armoured Brigade, known as The Iron Fist, following last month's ceremonies to end the UK's combat mission in the Iraqi city of Basra.

They arrived at their base in M√ľnster, north Germany, to a sea of colourful hand-painted welcome home banners that had been hung in front of the Battalion's Headquarters in Oxford Barracks, in the outskirts of the picturesque cathedral city.
Reflecting on what they have achieved whilst in Iraq, armoured vehicle driver,
Private Liam Blowman, 30, of east Hull, said the troops had made a real difference.

He said:: "I'm so excited to be back. I'm looking forward to getting out around Germany as much as possible this summer – just to have a good laugh and a few beers.
"We were the protection team for senior British and Iraqi officials. One of my jobs was as a driver for the rest of the platoon.

"It was a bit difficult at times because the roads can be a bit tight. I was in Iraq in 2007 and this time it seemed a bit more stable. You can definitely see the difference in how it was now and then."

Lance Corporal James Clark, 28, of Hull said: "It's just nice to be back now and see the kids and family.

"The kids have grown up so much and changed in the six months that I've been away.

"Now I'm looking forward to sitting down and having a cup of tea in my own home."

The soldiers will enjoy a period of normalisation before completing their homecoming by exercising the freedom of Hull and Beverley, with parades on Thursday, July 23.

Last 20 Brigade combat soldiers back home

The final combat troops from 20th Armoured Brigade (known as the Iron Fist) to leave Iraq arrived home in Munster, North Germany, on Saturday where they were greeted by overjoyed family members and friends.

The 40 soldiers from 1st Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment (1 YORKS) were welcomed home from a six-month deployment to Iraq on Saturday 30 May 2009 with colourful hand-painted banners which were hung in front of the battalion's headquarters in Oxford Barracks.
In Iraq, 1 YORKS have been responsible for mentoring and training the Iraqi Army in locations across Basra province as well as guarding senior British officials in the Iraqi capital.
Officer Commanding A Company, Major Phil Bassingham-Searle, said:

"The battalion's been split between Baghdad and Basra. It's good to return and get back together. I didn't realise until today that we're the last combat troops from 20th Armoured Brigade out of Iraq. So it's good to be home, to see our families again, and the job well done by the boys.

"We've got a period of 'normalisation' back here in barracks for about 10 days, then a couple of weeks leave and then we've got some freedom parades.

"There'll be 150 soldiers on parade and it'll be nice for the people of Yorkshire to come out and show their appreciation for what the guys have done this year."

Armoured vehicle driver, Private Liam Blowman, added:

"We were the protection team for senior British and Iraqi officials. One of my jobs was as a driver for the rest of the platoon. It was a bit difficult at times because the roads can be a bit tight.

"I was in Iraq in 2007 and this time it seemed a bit more stable. You can definitely see the difference in how it was now and then."

Returning from his first tour of Iraq, Private Luke Hawkin said:

"It's good to say that 'I've been there and done that'. It was satisfying work in Baghdad, helping the General with his movements and protecting him. It was nice to be there and do our jobs professionally.

"We didn't have to fire our weapons, so to get a tour out of the way without anyone getting injured is the best bit of all.

"I'm now looking forward to a few weeks in Germany and then getting back to the UK. I can't wait to march through York, it'll be good."

Lance Corporal James Clark concluded:

"It's just nice to be back now and see the kids and family. The kids have grown up so much and changed in the six months that I've been away. Now I'm looking forward to sitting down and having a cup of Yorkshire tea in my own home."

1 YORKS will be exercising the freedom of a number of Yorkshire towns and cities at the end of July; on Tuesday 21 July 2009 they will march through York and Harrogate, and on Thursday 23 July 2009 they will parade in Hull and Beverley.

They will complete their Yorkshire homecoming with a parade in Leeds city centre on Friday 24 July 2009.

Monday, June 1, 2009

U.S. Combat Troops on Pace to Leave Iraqi Cities by June 30

American combat troops are on pace to leave Iraqi cities by the June 30 deadline stipulated by the U.S.-Iraq security agreement, U.S. officials in Baghdad said yesterday.

Army Brig. Gen. Keith Walker, commander of the Iraq Assistance Group, said in a news conference that security throughout the country has continued to improve.

The security agreement calls for all coalition combat forces to be out of the cities by the end of the month. “We will adhere to the security agreement,” Walker said. “So, all combat forces will be out of the cities unless there is a specific invitation from the government of Iraq.”

U.S. forces will be available in advisory roles and to provide enabler capabilities, the general said.

In 2007, there was an average of 900 attacks per week. In 2008, that number dropped to 200 attacks per week. In 22 of the 26 weeks this year, fewer than 100 attacks have taken place per week nationwide, Walker said.

This improvement in security happened as the number of U.S. forces in Iraq declined by more than 20 percent from the height of the surge. “We have returned over 100 bases to Iraq since October,” the general said. “The provisions of the security agreement make our partnership with Iraqi forces that much more important.”

Today, Iraqi security forces conduct all operations. Coalition forces participate only with Iraqi concurrence. The coalition-Iraqi partnership “is characterized by combined planning, preparation and execution with Iraqi security forces in the lead,” he said. “It is enabled by a close working relationship and the collocation of partnership units and transition teams.”

The partnership’s coalition units help the Iraqi units with enablers, logistics and to ensure situational awareness between Iraqi forces and coalition forces.

Coalition transition units are now shifting attention to beefing up Iraqi command and control capabilities, sustainment and enabler units. “We have reached the point where partnership units are the core of what Multinational Corps Iraq does,” Walker said.

The corps will take over the partnership chores from the Iraq Assistance Group. “It no longer makes sense to have two organizations doing the same thing,” Walker said, so the mission of the group is folding into the corps.

Multinational Corps Iraq will handle the military and police transition teams and training for Iraqi forces in addition to operational responsibilities. The Iraqi Assistance Group will case its colors June 3.

Even once the U.S. units move out of the cities, they will remain associated with their Iraqi partners, Walker said. “They’ll have to drive a bit more, but they will be available,” he said.

The security agreement covers the entire country, so coalition forces will move out of areas such as Mosul, which have been fairly hot in the past months, the general said.

More than 600,000 Iraqis serve in the country’s security forces.