Norfolk soldiers prepare for war

Emma Knights While a convoy of British armoured vehicles patrolled across a seemingly deserted landscape Afghan insurgents plotted to attack with a suicide bomber waiting in the bushes.

Emma Knights

While a convoy of British armoured vehicles patrolled across a seemingly deserted landscape Afghan insurgents plotted to attack with a suicide bomber waiting in the bushes.

Scenes like this are common in troubled Afghanistan but today's scenario was part of a series of pre-deployment exercises for the Swanton Morley-based Light Dragoons at the army's Stanford Training Area (STANTA) in Norfolk.

Since Saturday about 180 soldiers from the regiment's A Squadron and C Squadron have been undertaking intensive training in territory that replicates the situation in Afghanistan as closely as possible, so that they are ready for action if they are deployed to the country in the near future.

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The exercises, which finish today, are all designed to give the soldiers the best possible understanding of the ever-changing tactics used against the army by Afghan insurgents, to prepare them for the reality of shocking scenarios they may have to deal with, and to give them vital experience with new equipment such as the military's tough new Jackal 4x4 patrol vehicles.

And these exercises are being made all the more authentic by Afghan nationals and amputees taking part in the role plays which also include ex-Gurkha soldiers playing insurgents and Afghan National Security Forces.

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Today members of the C Squadron were forced to gun down a suicide bomber approaching their Scimitar (an armoured reconnaissance vehicle) while other insurgents ambushed the rest of the convoy within a matter of seconds.

Elsewhere on STANTA some members of A Squadron were guarding their forward operation base (FOB) as well as taking a fuel delivery that was dropped from above by a Sea King helicopter.

Light Dragoons commanding officer Lt Col Angus Watson said: “This training is as realistic as OPTAG (Operational Training and Advisory Group) can make it. It is researched fantastically well.

“The soldiers really value the opportunity to do this realistic training to prepare them for what they have joined the army to do.”

Major Antony Pearce, who commands the A Squadron, said: “We have been concentrating on the basic skills the soldiers need in Afghanistan. We have had a very successful few days. We have been caught out a few times but it is best to make the mistakes here rather than in Afghanistan.”

Trooper Licarl Julien, 25, has been thrown in at the deep end, having arrived at the regiment's Robertson Barracks for the first time on Friday.

He said: “It is great to come here and learn exactly what I have signed up to do for a living. I feel much more prepared now. The IED (improvised explosive device) threat is really high over there and we have been doing a lot of drills on that. The main thing I have learnt from the exercises is the importance of team work.”

Sgt Major Chris Chandler, 37, who has been with the Light Dragoons for 19 years and served in Cyprus, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq and Afghanistan, said: “The training here is as realistic as we can make it without it being dangerous. It is extremely valuable.”

So far the Light Dragoons have taken part in two tours of Afghanistan - the C Squadron was there from October 2006 to May 2007 while the B and HQ Squadrons were there last year from April to October.

The A and B Squadrons went to Iraq in 2003 and the B and C Squadrons went to Iraq in 2005.

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