British Troops mark last Christmas in Afghanistan

Soldiers at Patrol Base Lash Durai  in Afghanistan get into the festive spirit. Pictures:  Ben Birchall/PA
Soldiers at Patrol Base Lash Durai in Afghanistan get into the festive spirit. Pictures: Ben Birchall/PA
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The commander of British forces in Afghanistan has thanked his troops for their contributions, praising them for doing a “worthwhile job”.

In a Christmas message to UK personnel, Task Force Helmand commander Brigadier James Woodham wished them a happy Christmas and said he and his Afghan counterparts were thankful for the contribution British soldiers have made.

Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler, with Hazel. Picture: PA

Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler, with Hazel. Picture: PA

Speaking at Camp Bastion ahead of what will be the last Christmas for combat troops in the country, Brig Woodham admitted that the festive period was a difficult time for those away from home.

“I would just like to tell them that they are doing a worthwhile job over here,” he said.

“In my interactions with the Afghan security force commanders, they are hugely thankful for the contribution and sacrifice that British soldiers have made over here since 2006.”

He said he wanted to thank troops “for their personal contributions and to wish them a happy Christmas”.

Christmas Day will be marked throughout the theatre of operations in Afghanistan, with each member of UK personnel getting a full lunch, as well as other events put on to mark the 
special day.

Brig Woodham said: “Christmas is a time that we traditionally spend with our families and our loved ones and for Task Force Helmand, this Christmas is a bit different.

“We are conducting our mission here in Afghanistan and several thousand miles away from our families and our loved ones.

“People are focusing on the job, but hopefully that doesn’t mean that we won’t find a way to enjoy this festive season.

“I hope every soldier on the task force will find a way on Christmas Day to celebrate. I would hope that people would be able to spend some time speaking to families and loved ones, and spend some time to open a present or two.”

Brig Woodham took over as commander of Task Force Helmand in September. His tour, Operation Herrick 19, is led by the 7th Armoured Brigade, better known as the Desert Rats, and is expected to complete a nine-month tour, rather than the previous six-month stints.

A major part of the tour involves the closure of bases around Helmand and the return of equipment to the UK.

Just five bases remain, including Camp Bastion, and all British combat operations in Afghanistan should be over by the end of 2014.

Officers and senior non-commissioned officers will also serve soldiers Christmas lunch, part of a long-running military tradition on Christmas Day.

Royal Welsh Captain Rich Morgan-Evans, 26, from Bristol, said: “The tour has been extended so it’s really important to make sure they have a nice day.”

Dogged determination rewarded as canine heroes remembered

AS TROOPS in Afghanistan join in Christmas Day celebrations, nobody will be left out – not even the working dogs.

Some 70 dogs of different breeds work across the theatre of operations in Afghanistan, carrying out various jobs from searches to force protection.

And their work does not go unnoticed, with gifts of thanks coming from the friends and families of their handlers, but also from complete strangers.

Private Zina Saunders, a dog handler with 1 Military Working Dogs, part of 32 Engineer Group, looks after two dogs – Hazel, who works as a search dog, and Urban, a force protection dog.

The 23-year-old, from Carmarthen, South Wales, who will be spending her first Christmas away from home during her tour of Afghanistan, said the dogs had not missed out on presents.

She said: “I’ve had family and friends send welfare parcels out and every single one of them has included treats for the dogs so they have been kept well treated with toys and presents.”