Gallery: Emotional return home for troops

TROOPS who returned to East Anglia yesterday from a gruelling six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan could be sent back to fight there in just two years time, it has emerged.

Roddy Ashworth

TROOPS who returned to East Anglia yesterday from a gruelling six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan could be sent back to fight there in just two years time, it has emerged.

Colchester garrison's 16 Air Assault Brigade has been pencilled in by the Ministry of Defence to return to Helmand Province in the winter of 2010, soldiers have been warned.

The news came as members of B Company of the Second Battalion, the Parachute Regiment (2 Para) arrived back home at Colchester's Merville Barracks following their posting at the frontline of the war against the Taliban.

Two Para forms part of 16 Air Assault Brigade, which is designated as the UK's rapid reaction force.

During the latest tour, 13 soldiers either in the battalion or attached to it were killed in action. Four were serving with B Company.

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Yesterday, when around 60 members of B Company arrived back in Colchester, they were met by cheers and applause from loved ones waiting to see them.

Many wives and girlfriends, some carrying young children, ran to greet their partners as the soldiers' coaches arrived.

Lance Corporal Alan Farmer, 32, met up with his fiancé Ella Banks, 26, as soon as he got off the coach. The couple are due to marry in two weeks time.

LCpl Farmer said: “It's good to be back. But it's a bitter-sweet moment when you have lost people. A few of the lads who died were in my unit. But you have to cope - it's just part of the job. You can't let things like that bother you too much when you are out there.”

Lieutenant Tom Coke-Smyth said it had been a “tough tour” and added that the company had probably killed approximately 150 of the Taliban in action.

“It's difficult to put a precise figure on it. But although the first six weeks were quiet, after that things changed. In the busiest period, which was from about mid-July to mid-August, we were engaging them every day.

“However, this is what we were trained for and I wouldn't say there were any great surprises out there.”

Major Russell Lewis, B Company's commander, said he believed the soldiers under him were the finest generation of paratroopers in the regiment's history.

“Sometimes I would look and see these 17 and 18-year-olds who are making contact every day unflinchingly and be just so incredibly proud. We took the fight to the enemy every day, no matter what.”

He added: “I think the British public understands now that this is not going to be a quick campaign. It is a long campaign. At my level I don't know how long it will take but it is going to take a while.”

A spokesman for Colchester Garrison said he could not comment on when the brigade would next be sent to Afghanistan.

“We do not discuss or speculate on future deployments until they are announced in the House of Commons,” he said.