Honington: Tongan troops poised for Afghan tour

A GROUP of troops from Tonga are poised to head out to Afghanistan following a period of intensive training in Suffolk.

The 60-strong contingent from the Tongan Defence Service will join the RAF Regiment for duties in Afghanistan as part of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The Tongans have been taking part in pre-deployment training under the instruction of the RAF Regiment’s Force Protection experts at RAF Honington near Bury St Edmunds.

The RAF will train a total of 220 Tongan troops, which is approximately half the total Tongan military strength.

When the first troops deploy to Afghanistan in mid-December they will be under the command of the RAF Regiment’s Force Protection Wing at Camp Bastion.

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The Tongan deployment, which will cover the next two years, will bolster security at Camp Bastion, the UK’s largest military base in Afghanistan.

Tongan marine officer Lieutenant Tomaakino Tuitavuki said: “I feel confident to go to Afghanistan. I know that my family back home are supporting me and the rest of my soldiers and marines that I’m deploying with”.

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To emphasise their warrior heritage and enthusiasm for the coming mission the Tongans have performed - during training - their fearsome war dance, the “Sipi tau”. Lieutenant Tuitavuki explained the significance of the Sipi tau, “The (New Zealand) Maoris call it the Haka but the Tongans call it the Sipi tau.

“In the old days the warriors before they deployed had to show our king that they were confident enough to fight their enemies.

“When we perform the Sipi tau we remember our values; loyalty to our king, integrity and also courage and commitment to our job for our country.

“And even here in the UK to the monarchy and also the whole armed forces in Afghanistan, this is part of our culture that we like to share with everyone”.

Squadron Leader Max Kroyer, part of the RAF Regiment’s training team, said: “They came to us at a good standard. We’re just bridging the gap and giving them a UK perspective.

“There are lots of things for them to take on and they are improving everyday”.

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