Page last updated at 16:20 GMT, Sunday, 26 October 2008

Homecoming after Afghanistan tour


Friends and family greet their loved ones

Soldiers from the Essex-based 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment have returned from a six-month tour of duty in northern Helmand, Afghanistan.

The last 60 soldiers of the regiment to return were reunited with their family and friends in Colchester.

The regiment has suffered more losses than any other serving there.

Fifteen soldiers who were members of 2 Para, or were attached to the unit, have died fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan in the past six months.

A service to commemorate soldiers who lost their lives takes place on 30 October.

Most of Britain's 8,000 troops in Afghanistan are based in Helmand province.

Major Russell Lewis said it was incredibly difficult for the soldiers to cope with the losses: "I've lost four and the battle group has lost significantly more.

Major Russell Lewis
Major Russell Lewis said the soldiers would be remembered on Thursday

"We lost three in one go to a suicide bomber and that was just an awful day, but it's amazing how the guys deal with it.

"We had a night of grieving and the next day we were back out there.

"We had to, but I think that was what we wanted to do for our comrades - we are paratroopers and we go straight back out there and take the fight to the enemy

"To some extent we've been so busy we had to put these things to one side to crack on with our job and that's what Thursday's about, it is almost the proper grieving process now that we're home."

Tough opponent

Defence Secretary John Hutton told BBC1's Politics Show that Afghanistan was the "front line in the fight against international terror".

He said it was "impossible to tell" how long troops would be deployed to the country, but conceded it could be "decades".

Mr Hutton said: "I don't think we've been under any illusion at all about the nature of the operation there but the Taleban are a tough opponent."

It was important that Britain did not "wobble" under pressure, he said.

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