Colchester: 16 Air Assault Brigade hands over military control of Helmand Province

A DEMANDING six-month tour of Afghanistan has come to an end for about 2,700 Colchester-based soldiers, many of whom will begin their journey home in the next couple of days.

Military command of Helmand Province was officially handed over by 16 Air Assault Brigade to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines on Saturday.

Brigadier James Chiswell, commander of the brigade based at the Merville Barracks, marked the end of the tour – known as Operation Herrick 13 – in a short ceremony in Lashkar Gah.

He paid tribute to the soldiers who had made the “ultimate sacrifice” in their fight against the Taliban insurgents.

“We have continued to strengthen relations with our Afghan partners in the army, police and Helmand provincial government,” said Brig Chiswell.

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“This has enabled us, alongside our ISAF coalition partners, to build up their capacity to provide security and protect the local people from the insurgents.

“Alongside the Provincial Reconstruction Team, we have continued to stabilise insecure areas and the men and women of 16 Air Assault Brigade – some of who have made the ultimate sacrifice – and their families can be proud of the immense contribution they have made to improve the lives of the Afghan people.”

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A total of 22 British soldiers and two Danish soldiers have died during Operation Herrick 13 which was led by 16 Air Assault Brigade since it arrived in Helmand in October 2010.

Over the next six months, 3 Commando Brigade will look to build upon their achievements.

Brigadier Ed Davis, Commander of 3 Commando Brigade, said: “Over the last six months Brigadier Chiswell and 16 Air Assault Brigade have made tangible progress throughout their area of operations.

“Our main objective is to continue to build on their success and move closer to setting the conditions for the transfer of security authority from ISAF to the Afghan National Army and Police.”

“We appreciate it is no easy task. There will continue to be tough fighting this summer as we consolidate gains and help facilitate the spread of governance to more towns and villages.

“However, I am confident that our excellent training has prepared us for the challenge that lies ahead.”

The transfer of authority ceremony was attended by the head of the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team, Michael O’Neill, and the commander of Regional Command South West, Major General John A Toolan Jnr.

The last troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade will have returned to Britain by mid-May.

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