TROOPS from Scottish units could be among those serving longer tours of duty in Afghanistan, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond announced in the Commons yesterday.
The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and the Highlanders could see their tours of duty increase from six to nine months towards the end of the campaign in Afghanistan.
Mr Hammond told MPs that forces deploying to Afghanistan this October would serve an eight-month tour of duty before coming home, rather than six months, as was the norm.
And as the army prepares to withdraw the bulk of its deployment by the end of 2014, some troops sent to Afghanistan next year would stay for as long as nine months, Mr Hammond said in a Commons statement.
In a response to a question from shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy, he said the composition of the next brigade had not been decided and he “can’t give more details” on which units would be involved.
However, the Royal Scots Dragoon Guards and Highlanders, which are both part of the 7th Armoured Brigade, due to go to Afghanistan in October, could be among those on longer tours.
A decision is likely to be made in August, two months before the next Afghan tour of duty for the 7th Armoured Brigade.
The Defence Secretary said between 2,200 and 3,700 UK military personnel were expected to serve for more than six and a half months in Afghanistan on the mission, codenamed Operation Herrick, as a result of yesterday’s announcement.
Those serving more than seven and a half months – and enduring the “relatively more austere conditions” expected towards the end of the campaign as bases close and assets are removed – will receive a “Herrick drawdown allowance” of £50 a day before tax on top of standard operational allowances.
Due to the gradually declining overall size of the UK deployment over the next 20 months, troops sent to Afghanistan are still expected to serve no more than six months in the country, with “significant numbers” staying for shorter periods.
Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced that the size of the UK force in Afghanistan will be reduced from its peak of 9,500 to about 5,200 by the end of this year.
Mr Hammond told MPs numbers would be at about 7,900 by the end of this month and Afghan security forces would be leading all security operations by the summer.
He said: “After more than a decade in which fighting the insurgency has been a primary focus, the UK’s military role in Afghanistan is evolving from combat to one of training, advising and assisting the Afghans.
“UK forces will no longer be in a combat role by the end of 2014. In light of this, we have looked at how we can best deploy what will be declining numbers of troops and smaller amounts of equipment between now and then to deliver the best possible protection to our people while continuing to provide the Afghans with the support they need during this critical transition period.”
The brigade deploying to Afghanistan in October this year will stay for eight months until June 2014, rather than the six-month tour used over the past 12 years, which has been “judged not to be sustainable during the final months of the drawdown period,” said Mr Hammond.
He added the move was based on advice from military commanders, saying: “It will better align the final tours with key milestones in the process, such as the Afghan presidential elections in spring 2014.”