A year after British combat troops left Afghanistan Peterborough soldiers are still playing a vital role in keeping the peace in the war-torn country.
More than 200 Soldiers from the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment are back in Afghanistan, but in a very different role to anything they have done before. On the request of the Afghan Government, the UK has committed around 470 troops to Op TORAL to support the Afghans as they develop their own security, by mentoring at the Afghan Security Ministries and Afghan National Army Officer Academy – modelled on the world renowned Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Operation TORAL is the UK’s military input to NATO’s ‘Resolute Support Mission’. Following the end of combat operations in Afghanistan, NATO has embarked on a new type of mission, to ‘Train, Advise and assist.’
During this new deployment, the battalion will lead a multi-national unit based in the heart of Kabul and deliver critical force protection to the NATO mission’s advisor community, acting as ‘guardian angels’.
The Anglians - also known as The Vikings - are currently based in Kabul, but are nearing the end of their six month tour.
Corporal Alan Taylor (26), from Bretton, Peterborough has completed three previous tours of Afghanistan as a combat soldier, and one tour of Iraq. He said life was very different in camp now compared to his earlier experiences.
He said: “The pace of life seems a lot slower. In Helmand you were constantly on patrol and on the ground in and around the locals. You still need to be aware all the time here though.
Despite the danger, Corp Taylor said he had wanted to return to Afghanistan after his last tour finished. He said: “I really wanted to go back, and do my job as a soldier.
“I knew I was always going to be a soldier from when I was young.
“Most of the people I knew were in the army. The comradeship is brilliant - it is like a family, from private to officer level.
“When I was in Helmand, I had the best time, and the worst times.
“One memory is of a bazaar, which we first saw in 2007. When we first got to the bazaar there were no traders or shoppers, but when we left it was buzzing, because it was so secure. It was very pleasing to know we had done our jobs.”
With the six month tour nearly over, the former Walton Comprehensive student is looking forward to seeing his fiancee, and getting a few weeks leave, before the next mission starts.
While Corp Taylor is a veteran of difficult tours, Private Matthew Ward is on his first tour.
The 22-year-old from Whittlesey said: “From what I have been told compared to previous tours you have to preoccupy yourself a lot on this one - whether its doing some physio work, or playing football, you have to do tour own thing. You can get a bit bored, but it is the way it is.
“The temperatures are tough. At the moment temperatures can reach 37 degrees, but we are used to it now. When we first arrived it was snowing, so we have had a lot to get used to.”
Like Corp Taylor, Pvt Ward said he always wanted to go into the army. The former Sir Harry Smith school “My family are very proud of me. Some of them used to be in the army, but that is not the reason why I joined. It is something I have always wanted to do.
“This is my first tour, and it was difficult at first, but we have Wifi here, so you can keep in touch. I am looking forward to coming home and going for a drink though.”
Company Sergeant Major Stephen Martin, also from Peterborough, has been in the army since 1996, and taken part in a number of tours to Afghanistan.
The 38-year-old said there were a number of major differences between this mission and others,
He said: “The noticeable differences from 2002 - 2015 is how far the country and Kabul in particular has developed. During my first tour in 2002 the city was in a state of disrepair and the obvious improvements within the infrastructure are plain to see. In 2002 there was a curfew each night which began at 8pm. This has ended and the city is now a bustling hive of activity throughout the evening with a wide range of celebrations mainly wedding ceremonies held within the lit up purpose built wedding halls.”