Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has visited Afghanistan to mark the latest milestone in the drawdown of UK forces.
Mr Hammond was in the country to witness the closure of Observation Post Sterga, the last remaining forward base to be used by UK troops. The closure of Sterga means that the only UK troops remaining in Helmand are at Camp Bastion and locations in Kandahar and Kabul.
During the visit, which was conducted as closure work continued, Mr Hammond spoke to soldiers from the 4th Battalion Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS) who had been living and working there.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said:
“The closure of our last base outside Camp Bastion is another important step towards ending combat operations in Afghanistan. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the mission and the hard work and sacrifice of British Forces. Their efforts have helped build a credible Afghan National Security Force and supported the emergence of a democratic Afghan state.”
Sterga opened in August 2013 to enable UK personnel to observe a large and strategically important area of central Helmand. Troops based there provided vital assistance in covering UK and US base closures and gave Afghan and coalition personnel a fuller understanding of insurgent activity.
The majority of the personnel based at Sterga prior to its closure came from 4th Battalion 4 SCOTS with specialist capabilities provided by other units such as 5 Regiment Royal Artillery, 32 Regiment Royal Artillery, 3 Royal Horse Artillery and 14 Signals Regiment. At its peak the base was home to 180 people although by its closure this had reduced to around 90 personnel.
Commanding Officer Lt Col James Roddis, said:
“Providing a secure environment for the redeployment of a base is vital to ensure the safety and protection of our personnel and equipment. The soldiers of the cross-coalition multi cap-badged Manoeuvre Battle Group, led by 4 SCOTS, have once again shown their ability and competence in making sure the personnel and equipment from Sterga could return safely back to Camp Bastion.
“Alongside our coalition partners we also oversaw and provided security for the closure of Laskhar Gah Durai and FOB Price in March earlier this year. As the last Scottish Infantry Battalion in Afghanistan it has been a challenging and rewarding job being part of the drawdown of British Bases in Helmand and the handover of lead security responsibilities to the Afghan Security Forces.”
More than 100 ISO containers worth of equipment had to be removed from the base by air and road with both UK and US forces involved in aviation, logistics and security.
During the Secretary of State’s visit to Afghanistan he also met with Major General Sayed Malouk, Commander 215 Corps based in Camp Shorabak. The pair discussed the development of the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Major General Sayed Malouk updated Mr Hammond on their training. Whilst at Shorabak the Defence Secretary also spoke to a number of British medics engaged in developing the ANA’s medical capabilities.
Capt David Watts, Medical Advisor 3 MERCIAN Brigade Advisory Team, said:
“The ANA have made significant steps over the last nine months, specifically with the development and delivery of the En Route Care Course which has reduced mortality rates. They now have a growing paramedic capability to perform in transit care from point of wounding to the hospital. I have found it a privilege to work alongside my ANA medical counterparts as a medical advisor.”
The closure of Sterga means that the UK presence in Helmand is now centralised in the main operating base Camp Bastion which is due to close at the end of the year as the British combat mission concludes.
In addition to the Logistic and Engineer experts, the operation to close the base was supported by soldiers from 4 SCOTS, 9/12L and the Danish VIKING platoon. It will be the last operation for the Danish Tanks prior to their own redeployment
- Equipment that was redeployed included: HUSKY Protected Support Vehicle, Persistent Threat Detection System (balloon), MAMBA Weapon Locating Radar, Lightweight Counter Mortar Radar (LCMR), Light Electronic Warfare Team (LEWT), Desert Hawk III (small unmanned aerial vehicle), LIVINGSTON Base ISTAR (intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance) system, 105mm Light Gun, 82mm Mortars (High Explosive, smoke and illuminating rounds, accurate to a max. range of 5.5km).
- The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers (RRF) were the first unit to use Sterga on HERRICK 18.
- The BAT Medical Development team has trained ANA medics in the life saving skills needed on the frontline, such as application of tourniquets, emergency field dressings etc whilst simultaneously developing surgical capability in Shorabak. The En Route Care Course was initially designed and delivered by the BAT medical team in Jan 14 and has now been rolled out ANA wide following its success.