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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 October 2006, 21:14 GMT 22:14 UK
Paras back home from Afghanistan
Paratrooper greeting child at Stansted
About 150 soldiers were met by relatives at Stansted
British paratroops have returned to the UK following a six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Personnel from the Third Battalion of the Parachute Regiment flew into Stansted before going on to barracks in Colchester, Essex.

About 150 soldiers were led by Lt Col Stuart Tootal, who was greeted by Defence Secretary Des Browne.

Mr Browne paid tribute to the soldiers, saying what they had achieved in Afghanistan was "truly outstanding".

'Immense debt'

"They have worked in the most difficult, extreme and hazardous of conditions," he said.

"But sadly this success has been at a cost. A number of soldiers from the battle group have not returned and others have been seriously injured.

"This country owes them all an immense debt of gratitude."

Lt Col Tootal said the soldiers had "risen to the challenge magnificently".

The paratroops were part of 16 Air Assault Brigade.

Brigadier Ed Butler, the outgoing commander, said troops had helped locals resist the Taleban.

"We have given confidence to the elders, mullahs and people to stand up to the Taleban for the first time in years. The significance of this should not be underestimated."

Solders were greeted by chants of "heroes, heroes" by about a dozen families who had assembled to greet the returning personnel.

In any campaign there will be a number of lessons to learn
Lt Col Tootal

Lt Col Tootal said: "This is going to be a long-term campaign. The Marines need to be prepared, as we were, to fight at a high level of intensity."

He said he would be meeting with ministers privately to talk about his troops' experiences.

"In any campaign there will be a number of lessons to learn," he said. "I welcome the opportunity to talk about a lot of those."

Fifteen soldiers from the brigade were killed in action in their six months in Afghanistan and another died in an accident at a military base.

The Paras have been replaced in Afghanistan by 42 Commando Royal Marines; a number of paratroopers have stayed behind to complete the handover.

Other members of 16 Air Assault Brigade, including pilots, engineers and medics, returned last month.

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