Troops gearing up for surge against Taliban

SUFFOLK: Soldiers from the county are today gearing up for the biggest surge against the Taliban since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Armed forces minister Bill Rammell said troops from the Royal Anglian Regiment will be involved in the Nato-led operation to clear insurgent strongholds in the notorious Helmand province.

He could not disclose the precise nature of their contribution for security reasons.

Hundreds of villagers living near the Taliban-controlled town of Marjah are reportedly leaving the area ahead of the offensive, which is expected to begin soon.

Speaking to The Evening Star, Mr Rammell said the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, which recruits from this region, were already “intricately involved” in pushing back the insurgency in Helmand.

Following a visit to the region last week, the MP for Harlow in Essex, said: “They are doing incredibly good work with bravery, professionalism and dedication.

“Last week, I went to a forward operating base in Musa Qala. There is a real contrast from when I visited in the summer.

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“It is still a really challenging environment, but this time I was able to stand on the roof of the compound building, look over the river and see around 1,000 people at the local market.”

Despite the 1st Battalion Royal Anglian Regiment losing two soldiers in the past few weeks, Mr Rammell said he believed the public in the region were largely supportive of the conflict.

He said: “My sense is the majority of people believe this (the conflict) is the right thing to do.

“I wouldn’t be stupid and say it isn’t divisive, but overall the majority of people support the idea that this is crucial for our national security.”

Operation Moshtarak – which means “together” in the Dari language – is expected to be launched within the next few days.

It will be the first major military action since US president Barack Obama announced the deployment of 30,000 extra US troops.

The 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment – known as the Vikings – are on a six-month tour after being deployed in October.

n Later this month, Evening Star reporter Simon Tomlinson will be travelling to Afghanistan to follow the operations being carried out by the region’s troops.