Planning the journey back from Afghanistan

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There’s enough kit in Afghanistan to fill almost 10,000 shipping containers.

From small ammunition to giant armoured vehicles, troops in Afghanistan have been provided with tonnes of equipment to meet their mission. And now it’s all got to come back.

A Husky is checked off as it is off-loaded from the Anvil Point after it arrived at Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre in Southampton to offload Military Vehicles after returning from Afghanistan ''Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

A Husky is checked off as it is off-loaded from the Anvil Point after it arrived at Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre in Southampton to offload Military Vehicles after returning from Afghanistan ''Picture: Andrew Matthews/PA Wire

Most of the equipment sent to the war zone is still in good order and is needed to supply the Army for the future.

And the job of organising the return of the items has fallen to a Gosport man, Lieutenant Colonel Robert Cosgrove.

He has recently arrived in Camp Bastion to oversee the redeployment of equipment on its return journey to the UK, and has been involved in the planning stages for the last two years.

Lt Col Cosgrove told The News: ‘It sends a message the Afghans are taking control now. We wouldn’t be able to reach this stage of sending equipment back without that being the case.

‘We have put a lot of time and investment into making sure we have the best equipment out here, so it makes sense to bring it all back. The majority of the equipment we have here has a place in the future of the Army, so it’s important it is returned.

‘I have only been out here for three weeks, but the vast part of my job for the last two years has been the redeployment of equipment.

‘Obviously it’s difficult being away from family being here rather than in the UK, but being in the Army you accept that. It’s a rare opportunity in the Army to be involved in the planning of something for such a long time and then to be able to actually see it through.

‘It makes it very rewarding.’

Recently, the delivery of almost 100 vehicles in a shipment to the UK from Afghanistan brought the total number redeployed from theatre to more than 1,000.

The vehicles are unloaded at the Marchwood Sea Mounting Centre near Southampton after transit from a port in the Middle East.

British armoured vehicles are being flown in from Camp Bastion in Helmand province, or in some cases moved overland through Pakistan to a sea port, before being loaded onto a ferry.

The ferry then spends more than four weeks at sea navigating through the Gulf of Oman, along the coast of Yemen, across the Red Sea, and through the Suez Canal.

It then sails through the Mediterranean and past Gibraltar before finally turning for UK waters.

Of the almost 10,000 shipping containers that make up the amount of kit in Afghanistan, about 5,500 containers worth has already been returned.

Officially, the return of equipment to the UK began in October last year.

It is expected to last until the end of next year. Before the equipment can begin its journey to the UK, it is cleaned up and maintained in Camp Bastion to bring it up to standard.

With the vast facilities built at the UK’s Afghan base, Lt Col Cosgrove says it is most cost-effective to the Army to carry out that work in theatre, rather than back in the UK.

‘Out here we have the facilities, the people, and the time,’ he adds.

‘An analysis was done and it found it was most cost-effective to the taxpayer for that work to be done out here. What happens with things like vehicles is they are deep cleaned and given what is effectively an MoT to make them safe for return to the UK.’

Certain items are not worth bringing back to the UK.

It would not be cost-effective to bring back small arms ammunition which has been sent out to the troops, because it would cost too much to bring it home.

These items are destroyed within the wire of Camp Bastion. But meanwhile, more shipping containers are stacked up with equipment ready for the return journey.

And each piece of kit that comes back makes the UK footprint in Afghanistan that little bit smaller, paving the way for the eventual withdrawal.

WHILE the effort to return equipment to the UK continues, somebody has to keep the vehicles running while they are still in use.

Craftsman Shaun Foster, a TA soldier from Cosham, has the task of going out to any vehicles which might break down. They are either repaired on the spot or brought back to Camp Bastion for further work.

The Army has a wide range of vehicles in use at the Helmand base and elsewhere, including armoured vehicles and regular trucks for transportation around the base.

Cfn Foster says: ‘This is my first tour, and it’s been quite an experience. I have enjoyed every minute of it.

‘Obviously there have been ups and downs but it’s been good.

‘I’m 43 years old, so the lads do tend to tease me a bit and call me “Granddad” but I don’t mind it. I do it because I enjoy my trade.’

Back in Camp Bastion is a small and dedicated team of soldiers whose job it is to prepare the vehicles for their return to the UK. There are around 24 of them, giving the armoured vehicles a once-over and fixing any problems before they are sent on their way.

Craftsman Paul Coombes, 20, from Southampton, says: ‘It’s a really rewarding thing because sometimes they need really big jobs doing on them and we can do that before sending them on their way, knowing they will be used again some day.

‘I have found my time out here really enjoyable and the experience has been amazing.

‘I actually like the weather and the heat out here, and it feels good because I know that everything we’re doing is being done for a reason.’