Page last updated at 15:44 GMT, Wednesday, 30 September 2009 16:44 UK

Soldiers return after Afghan tour

Soliders
The soldiers were reunited with family and friends

About 70 soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Mercian Regiment have flown into NI after finishing their six-month tour of duty in Afghanistan.

The soldiers are being reunited with their families living at Palace Barracks in Holywood, County Down.

The battalion suffered five losses during their tour.

They were involved in Operation Panther's Claw and worked with the Afghan National Army in Helmand.

Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett, 29, from Devizes, Wiltshire, was killed in an explosion there earlier this month.

Major Jim Turner, the regiment's second in command, told BBC Radio Ulster they had to deal with a "very real threat from insurgents".

"Five of our soldiers have been killed in the last six months," he said

"And there have been a number of casualties, that is very much the nature of the operations going on in Afghanistan.

"When you lose someone who is a very close friend, and we are working in these very small tight-knit teams, it is a big blow every time that it happens.

"We are also keenly aware of the impact it will have at home, on our families and friends who are waiting for us and worrying about us."

This is the third tour of Afghanistan the battalion, made up of soldiers from Worcestershire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, has made in the last four years.

"We've had a very challenging tour, but everyone in this battalion has a real sense of achievement," added Major Turner.

"Our soldiers have done something they should be extremely proud of.

"There is now a large proportion of the Afghan people who are no longer under the influence of the Taliban, and that's a very proud achievement for all of us."



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