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EDITIONS
Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 19:42 GMT 20:42 UK
First marines arrive home
Commando Eddie McIlvenna is greeted by his wife Fiona
The marines were met by family and friends
More than 300 Royal Marines have arrived home in Scotland following a three-month mission in search of al-Qaeda fighters.

About 315 troops from 45 Commando, based in Arbroath, touched down shortly before 1800 BST on Thursday at Prestwick Airport - where they were greeted by a piper and about 100 family members, friends and wellwishers.

The men, who had been serving in Afghanistan as part of Operation Jacana, are the first troops involved in the operation to arrive back in the UK.

Marines returning home
The marines touched down at Prestwick
The vast majority of the UK's 4,000-strong force in and around Afghanistan will be back in the UK by August.

Captain Ken Cowan, 29, from Edinburgh, was among those completing the 36-hour journey home on Thursday.

He said: "It was a very successful mission and I'm very proud of what all the lads have achieved.

"Now I'm looking forward to doing normal things like watching TV and going to the cinema.

"It's the small things you miss, like using a toilet that flushes or sleeping on a bed with a mattress."

Turbulent area

His girlfriend, Laura Shevlane, 28, added: "I'm ecstatic. We are just looking forward to spending some time together."

British marines have been involved in a number of missions in Afghanistan, including securing a turbulent area in the south-east of the country.

They have been combing the mountain valleys to destroy remaining pockets of the al-Qaeda terrorist network, blamed for the 11 September attacks on New York and Washington.


We can all feel very proud that our armed forces have played a major role in the fight against international terrorism

Adam Ingram
Armed Forces Minister
They found few fighters while searching the country, prompting some frustration among the marines, and criticism of the mission among some politicians.

Armed Forces Minister Adam Ingram and Admiral Sir Ian West, Commander-in-Chief Fleet, met the marines as they touched down.

Mr Ingram insisted the mission had been a success despite the absence of any direct combat.

"They have done a fantastic job in very difficult conditions and we can all feel very proud that our armed forces have played a major role in the fight against international terrorism and destabilisation of the country," he said.

"More importantly, they are all coming home safe, which will be a relief to us all.

Capt Ken Cowan, from Edinburgh, is greeted by girlfriend Laura Shevlane
More than 300 marines flew to Scotland
"They were successful in destroying ammunition, which in our opinion would have been used if they hadn't been there."

Sir Ian stressed that the troops were "extremely highly trained".

"There is no doubt at all that they would have given al-Qaeda a thrashing," he said.

"There was some frustration, but deep in one's heart, one knows it's much better if you don't have to kill people or suffer any casualties of your own."

The UK will continue to maintain about 1,700 troops in and around Afghanistan in readiness for rapid re-deployment if needed

Find out more about the Royal Marines in Afghanistan


Analysis

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See also:

09 Jun 02 | South Asia
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