Danger and uncertainty ever present as Scottish soldiers battle for acceptance

THOUGH the troops are always poised for a mortar or rocket attack, their patrols find ways of passing the time in the languid afternoon heat - taking digital photographs, or mixing with local children.

All the while, their Warrior armoured fighting vehicles remain visible, sending out a clear message to any Taleban who happen to be in the area.

These images of the Scots Guards, who have been on duty in Afghanistan since September, demonstrate the difference that has been made by the introduction of Warriors to the security of the dangerous Helmand province.

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Days without conflict in the area are few and far between. Even on a quiet day, it is work fraught with danger and uncertainty, a mix which many more Scots troops look likely to experience over the next year.

Their "home", at Forward Operating Base Arnhem, is on the front line of Britain's operations against the Taleban in Helmand province.

Built in August, it overlooks the lush "green zone", an agricultural area several kilometres wide, and has unfettered views into the area within which the Taleban had previously been able to operate at will.

The base, the first of a series to be built along the green zone, is an enduring presence that gives Afghan farmers and their families security.

On patrol, the Warrior vehicles manoeuvre to provide "overwatch" of the green zone. They are never far away and are ready to provide covering fire. Their presence is a comfort to soldiers on the ground, who are aware of the Warriors' impressive firepower.

The first weeks of September were a baptism of fire. Strips of cardboard ripped from ration boxes are pinned to the rough wooden beams which support the hardened command post. Hastily scribbled numbers record details of the daily mortar and rocket attacks and serve as an operational record of more unsettled times.

More recently the situation has changed. Now the camp is infrequently attacked, although the soldiers carry helmets and body armour everywhere. The maxim: "Soldiers must be lucky all of the time, terrorists only once" is applicable in Helmand as it was in Northern Ireland 20 years ago.

Forces have been determined not to let territory which has been fought over be infiltrated by the Taleban once more. Initial attacks were followed up time and time again in Operation Palk Wahel in which the Taleban were forced out of the area. The Scots Guards played a major part providing mobility and fire support during the operation.

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Afghans in the area are beginning to respond to the continual presence of troops by providing bits of intelligence. Bombardier Steven Renwick describes being told by one man on which side of a track Taleban mines were.

For the soldiers, the most significant change though has been the introduction of the Warriors. Major Chris Bell, the commanding officer, said: "We are able to provide fire support in places where it is needed, particularly for dismounted troops going into dangerous situations."

Guardsman Brown, from Pollock in Glasgow, said: "Since we arrived ... the Warriors have given the Taleban a pasting and we haven't seen much of them since."

The Scottish presence in Afghanistan will only increase in the months ahead. Of the Royal Regiment of Scotland's five battalions, two look likely to be deployed there next spring, along with a reinforced armoured infantry company from a third battalion, some 1,400 troops altogether.

That means that in a UK-wide deployment which, by summer of 2008 will stand at over 8,000, more than one in five will be Scottish.

Yesterday, the routine carnage in the region went on as normal, with an explosion killing four policemen and wounding four more.

The blast, in a bazaar close to a mosque in the town of Gereshk in Helmand, also injured ten civilians.

It came on the first day of the Eid al-Fitr Muslim holiday, when many worshippers gather to pray in mosques to mark the end of Ramadan.

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British forces in Helmand were preparing to airlift the wounded police by helicopter to a military hospital.

Taleban insurgents have carried out more than 100 suicide bombings this year in recent months, killing more than 200 people.

Mainly British troops are engaged in almost daily battles with Taleban fighters for control of Helmand, a large desert area, where most of Afghanistan's opium is produced.

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