SOLDIERS from 1 Scots packed up and left after completing their last ever tour of Afghanistan today.
In a ceremony on Camp Tombstone, a base alongside Camp Bastion that is shared with the Afghan National Army (ANA), the regiment handed over their duties to 4 Rifles.
They have been responsible for running the Brigade Advisory Group, preparing the ANA to go it alone in Helmand province once coalition combat operations come to an end next year.
Immediately after their flag was lowered, the 1 Scots insignia was removed from the parade ground as they loaded their bags on to a waiting truck. They will fly back to the UK today.
The Edinburgh-based infantry battalion is part of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
Commanding officer, Lt Col Ben Wrench, said: “We are very pleased to be returning home after what has been a rewarding tour.
“The ANA has made huge progress since we were last here in 2010 and this is allowing us to leave Afghanistan in an orderly manner.
“Our mentoring is becoming less and less hands-on as they take the lead in planning and executing their own operations.
“What we are working on now is creating a professional army which can sustain itself.
“This means focusing on areas such as artillery, mortar and how to plan their own logistics.”
He added that he believed it was possible for the ANA to significantly disrupt the activities of the insurgency.
“I think we flatter the insurgency by describing them as an insurgency,” he said.
“They are no longer the organised and committed force they once were.
“For many, it has just become a way of life – they are motivated by income rather than ideology.”
Lt Col Tom Bewick, commanding officer of the incoming 4 Rifles, is on his third tour of Afghanistan.
He said the approaching fighting season, in which the ANA will take on sole responsibility for offensive operations, could see the Afghans prove they are ready to take responsibility for security in Helmand.
“My first two tours of Afghanistan, in 2009 and 2010, involved full-on fighting,” he said. This tour will be an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come.
“There is still work to do in professionalising the command structures of the ANA, but we shouldn’t be cynical about their ability.
“There is a lot of focus on this being the first fighting season on their own, but they have been taking on a growing role for six years.
“They are more than up to the job at this important time.”
Meanwhile, a British colonel in charge of bomb disposal in the region said Afghan soldiers responsible for finding and clearing explosive devices in Helmand province are now “self-sufficient”.
Lieutenant Colonel Adam Mcrae is in charge of 11 Explosive Ordnance Disposal, made up of troops from 15 different regiments operating out of Camp Bastion.
Lt Col Mcrae said that as Nato forces prepare to cease combat operations by the end of 2014, ANA operators in the province have completed more than 500 explosive device tasks – far more than their British counterparts.
However, Major General Edward Smyth-Osbourne, attached to the International Security Assistance Force in Kabul, said such progress needed to be replicated across the country.
“If that is the situation in Helmand, it is good news. It is not yet true across Afghanistan,” he said. “There has certainly been progress, but the Afghan National Security Forces are still suffering too many casualties, and that is an issue of equipment as well as training.”