Squadron stays as British withdraw

Combat operations in Iraq may have officially ended for the UK, but personnel from RAF Honington will be remaining in Basra as British activity there winds down.

In a ceremony at Basra airport last Thursday, the British armed forces lowered their flag and formally handed control of the base to the American military, six years after the war began.

But 150 airmen from 15 Squadron RAF Regiment, who left for a four-month tour of duty in February, still remain in Basra and will be one of the last units to leave the base when it is handed over to Iraq's security forces.

Last month, the squadron joined a joint US/UK patrol to Il Mithar, a village north of their base in Basra, where they met Iraqi National Police and delivered footballs, books and stationery to schools, getting the chance to speak to some of the pupils there.

Meanwhile, back in Britain, the Government's commitment to the conflict in Afghanistan was underlined as it opened a 14 million facility designed to help troops train for combat in the Middle East.

The Ministry of Defence officially opened new areas at its Stanford Training Area (Stanta), just north of Thetford, last Thursday, with the new facility to provide training to all troops deploying to Afghanistan.

With the help of Afghan nationals and others who will take on the role of insurgents, its rural Middle Eastern village and urban Middle Eastern complex have been designed to mirror situations soldiers could find on the ground.

The training area, which was previously used for training troops heading to Northern Ireland and took eight months to develop, will replicate the sights, smells and sounds of the region, with calls to prayer across a market place, a family home and a network of claustrophobic alleyways.

General Sir David Richards, commander in chief of land forces, said: "These new training facilities mean that we will be giving our soldiers the very best chance to succeed in today's complex operations and return home safely.

"I am proud that we can now offer today's armed forces the facilities they deserve to best equip them for the job we ask of them on operations."

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