Convoys face Taliban bombs but are vital link to the front line

Fareham MP Suella Fernandes, second right, and Minister of State for Schools The Rt Hon Nick Gibb MP, centre, with representatives from Portchester Community School  and Henry Cort Community College

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As they clambered down from dust-clad vehicles, the men and women of the Combat Logistic Patrol breathed a deep sigh of relief.

Their giant lorry convoy, stretching five kilometres from front to end, had just wound its way back to Bastion from Garments in the south of Helmand Province without once suffering attack.

Travelling at a slow pace for more than 36 hours, sailors and Marines had completed a 140-mile round trip that carries deadly risk.

This drop-off to a Forward Operating Base was carried out by the Marines' Commando Logistics Regiment, which features dozens of men and women from The News area.

The convoy routes are heavily mined by Afghan insurgents, and this patrol was no different.

Chief Petty Officer Andy Whitehorse, 37, from Gosport, pictured below, used to be an instructor at HMS Collingwood, Fareham.

He said: 'It's a supremely dangerous thing to do when you consider how slow the convoy moves and how large it is.

'Imagine a giant herd of cattle and you get the idea of how easily it can be seen, and that's why we have loads of force protection personnel.

'We have the Mastiff vehicles which are practically bomb-proof, and each vehicle has a machine gun mount to provide covering fire.'

Major Marcus Taylor, who led the convoy, said his troops had to remain vigilant.

He said: 'The credit has to go to the guys and girls who go through this, they're the ones who make sure the bases are replenished and enable those at the front line to keep carrying the fight.

'There's plenty of attention for the guys in the forward bases but without these runs they can't continue.

'We are coming to the end of our time here but that doesn't mean for a second that we will let up – the Taliban don't have an end of tour date.'

After completing their marathon journey through the desert home of civilians and insurgents alike, the personnel have to clear dust from every part of their vehicles.

Twenty-two-year-old Engineering Technician Matt Holloway is now a driver on the convoys.

The former weapons engineer on the Portsmouth-based warship HMS Lancaster said: 'The vehicles get really hit by the dust as soon as you start, which means you have to keep them well-maintained.

'It's a really different experience from being on a ship because you know that you're at risk of dying here, whereas in a ship it feels less intense.

'The Taliban are learning to fight in different ways, so instead of using small arms they are planting the explosives which are harder to spot.'

HELMAND PROVINCE

At 62,337 sq km, Helmand is Afghanistan's largest province.

Estimates put the province's population between 700,000 and 1.4 million, although the most recent census was undertaken in 1979.

The province's capital is Lashkar Gah – where the UK Provincial Reconstruction Team is based.

In the 1970s Helmand was one of the most agriculturally productive areas in Afghanistan.

But after years of conflict and drought, much of this productivity has been lost, or redirected towards poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.

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