Page last updated at 15:55 GMT, Sunday, 12 April 2009 16:55 UK

UK Afghan troops' morale 'good'

Brig Messenger said troops were making "real signs of progress"

The outgoing commander of UK troops in Afghanistan has denied soldiers are suffering poor morale and and has said they are making "significant progress".

Brigadier Gordon Messenger discounted reports quoting Royal Marines as saying gains were squandered owing to lack of manpower and equipment.

He admitted troops had "suffered setbacks" but said morale was good.

Brig Messenger made his comments as 122 personnel, mostly Royal Marines, returned home at the end of their tour.

3 Commando Brigade's commander has been in charge of UK troops in Helmand for six months, during which time 32 soldiers have died.

It is slow progress at times, but progress it is
Brigadier Gordon Messenger, 3 Commando Brigade

He was speaking as the 122 personnel - made up mainly of Royal Marines from 42 Commando based in Bickleigh, near Plymouth - returned to Exeter Airport, Devon, to be met by family and well-wishers.

"I wont pretend that there have not been setbacks and surprises but the overall direction is one of progress," he said.

"It is slow progress at times, but progress it is."

He said the families of serving personnel should be "extremely proud" of them.

He added that he believed the international community would stay in Afghanistan for some time but hoped military missions would be scaled down as Afghan security forces took a greater role.

'Very busy'

He said: "I have been really encouraged by the Afghan National Army. I was here two-and-a-half years ago and have seen a big improvement in their capability."

Commander-in-Chief Fleet Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope said: "What 3 Commando have achieved is hugely significant. They have done a job well; we are awfully proud of them."

RSM Marc Wicks, from Plymouth, was met by his wife and daughters at the airport.

He said: "The guys are really glad to be back. It was a high tempo tour; we were very busy.

"Everyone is looking forward to spending some quality time with their families and reflecting on the 32 who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country."

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