Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Tuesday, 20 October 2009 14:23 UK
Mercians in Afghanistan timeline
Troops fighting in Afghanistan
British troops fighting in Afghanistan

The 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, is back in their Belfast barracks, after a six-month tour in Afghanistan.

During the tour the Mercians lost five soldiers killed, mainly to improvised explosive devises (IED).

They took part in Operation Panther's Claw, clearing an area in Helmand Province the size of the Isle of Wight.

Their commanding officer said their tour will be remembered for the hardest fight encountered in Helmand province.

MARCH 2009

2 March: Nearly 3,000 soldiers from 19 Light Brigade, including the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, started deploying to Helmand province, Afghanistan, for a six-month tour. They replaced 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines as the lead formation of UK forces in Afghanistan.

Brigadier Tim Radford, who became Commander Task Force Helmand said: "We are going to be working very hard in Afghanistan for the next six months and the support of our families and friends in Northern Ireland is vitally important to us."

The rest of March is spent preparing for active operations.

APRIL 2009

6 April: An unusual ceremony, involving soldiers from the Mercians, takes place at Camp Shorabak in Helmand province. A red officers jacket is hoisted up the flag pole, to fly underneath the Union flag.

This was to commemorate a famous battle at the Spanish fortress of Badajoz, where Lieutenant James MacPherson and a handful of men stormed the fortress, despite fanatical resistance by the French defenders.

10 April: 19 Light Brigade, including the 2nd Mercians, formally take over from 3 Commando at the headquarters in Lashkar Gah.

On the same day a Territorial Army soldier, attached to the Mercians, survives being shot in the head by a sniper.

Private Leon 'Willy' Wilson, 32, from Manchester, escaped uninjured when the bullet entered his helmet, went straight through the forehead pad, and came out the other side.

Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders
Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders who wrote a blog

21 April:

Colour Sergeant Michael Saunders, aged 35, begins sending a regular blog to his local pub, The Marwood in Worcester, where his sister Tracy works.

Read the Blogs here

27 April: The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, visits Camp Bastion, and meets Brigadier Tim Radford, Commander of Task Force Helmand.

30 April: More than 30 soldiers from the Mercians gather to remember the three members of their unit who were killed during their last deployment to Afghanistan.

The ceremony took place at the headquarters of the UK Task Force at Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.

Drummer Thomas Wright, 21, from Ripley, died on 24 June 2007, and Privates Damian Wright, 23, from Mansfield, and Ben Ford, 18, from Chesterfield, who both died on 5 September 2007.

All three were part of C Company, 1st Battalion The Worcestershire and Sherwood Foresters Regiment, which became 2nd Battalion The Mercian Regiment during the tour on 1 September 2007.

MAY 2009

11 May: 35 Soldiers from the Mercians work alongside the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police in a two day operation, codenamed Operation ZAFAR, to drive Taliban fighters from several villages near Lashkar Gah.

Soldiers
British soldiers in action in Afghanistan

Captain Sam Boudet-Fenouillet, of the Mercians, said:

"The enemy provided a determined resistance and were not willing to give up the area without a fight - fighting lasted for 48 hours.

"During one particularly fierce three-hour phase, all elements of the force were in combat and as gunfire crackled through the air, air strikes and artillery bombardments were called in to support our troops.

"The first two days saw the most fighting, but the enemy were outmatched and soon withdrew."

21 May: Colour Sergeant Ben Cox spends 20 minutes with a paint brush, uncovering a Taliban IED, buried on a dusty road in Helmand.

He was working with the Afghan National Army near Patrol Base Arygll, in the Nad e-Ali area, and was on a routine foot patrol when the IED registered on his mine detector:

He said: "I'm not a bomb specialist, I'm an infanteer.

"To get down and start looking for some bomb, a lot goes through your head.

"You have to remove dirt so slowly it's unbelievable - it could go off at any time.

"It's quite an experience - you should try it."

Soldiers
Major Nick Clarke, working with the Afghan army

26 May:

Major Nick Clarke, a territorial offer from Kidderminster, volunteers to stay on in Afghanistan, working with the Mercians, so that he can complete his training of Afghan soldiers.

He explained what his role was: "The new initiative involves training the Afghans on counter-improvised explosive device measures, M16 firing, battlefield first aid and radio operations"

Read the full story here

28 May: Lance Corporal Kieron Hill is killed by an explosion near Garmsir in Helmand province.

He was fighting alongside a small unit of the Afghan National Army, in an action codenamed Operation HERRICK 10.

He was 20, and from Nottingham, and this was his second tour of duty in Afghanistan.

Read the full story here

JUNE 2009

Soldier
British soldier in action in Afghanistan

19 June:

Operation Panchai Palang (Panther's Claw) begins, involving British and US troops, with the aim of clearing the Taliban from an area north of Lashkar Gah, ahead of the forthcoming Presidential elections.

The Mercians are to play a key part in this operation, though the initial fighting is done by units from the Welsh Guards, Light Dragoons and the 3 Scots.

JULY 2009

Private Robert Laws
Private Robert Laws, killed in Afghanistan

4 July:

Private Robert Laws is killed, whilst clearing the Babaji and Malgir areas of insurgents.

Private Laws, 18, from Bromsgrove, was killed when the vehicle he was travelling in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

His family said: "(We) are immensely proud of our popular and loving son. We would like to thank all our friends for their loving support at this very difficult time."

Read full story here

Tattoo tribute to Private Robbie Laws

9 July: Brigadier Tim Radford, Commander of Task Force Helmand, said at a press conference that, despite the loss of several British troops, morale is high and, hour-by-hour and day-by-day, the troops feel they are winning.

13 July: Sergeant Andrew McNulty is praised for facing Taliban gunfire to help out colleagues in trouble, not once, but twice.

Soldiers
British soldiers entering a helicopter in Afghanistan

He is the Platoon Sergeant, the Second-in-Command, of Ava Platoon, a 30-strong team based at Camp Bastion providing protection for the huge resupply convoys, known as Combat Logistic Patrols (CLPs).

In one incident he rolled his broken-down vehicle down a hill, to join his colleagues in a battle with the Taliban.

A few weeks later, he saved the lives of three colleagues, after their vehicle plunged into a fast-flowing canal in the dead of night, in Helmand province.

23 July: Private David 'Dunc' Duncan survives a Taliban attack in which he was shot through the face.

He was in the Panjab region of Helmand province when he was shot as insurgents ambushed his Jackal armoured vehicle:

"My head just whipped round to the side - it felt like I'd been kicked in the face by an invisible horse.

"I immediately dropped down to the footwell and put my hands to my face.

"All I could see was blood."

After being driven to safety, Pte Duncan was airlifted to the field hospital at Camp Bastion, where his jaw was x-rayed and his wounds cleaned and stitched.

26 July: Operation Panther's Claw officially ends. 3000 troops took part, and cleared an area the size of the Isle of Wight.

Nine British soldiers died during the operation, and Brigadier Tim Radford paid tribute to them:

"Tragically, during Panther's Claw nine brave young men paid the ultimate sacrifice.

"We are a close knit Task Force, and we all feel those losses very deeply, but we remain resolute and determined to continue the fight in their name."

AUGUST 2009

Private Jason Williams
Private Jason Williams on active service in Afghanistan

8 August:

Private Jason Williams is killed by an explosion, while on patrol just east of Gereshk in Helmand province.

Private Williams' platoon was securing the site of an attack which had occurred earlier that day, during which three Afghan National Army Warriors were killed.

He was 23 years old and from Worcester, and had been with the 2nd Battalion, The Mercian Regiment, for less than a year.

In a statement his family paid tribute to their son: Private Williams' family said in a statement: "Jason was a loving and caring son and brother.

"The Army gave him a sense of purpose and enthusiasm for life which stretched beyond the boundaries of his work.

"We are so proud of Jason and we will miss him every day."

Read the full story here

SEPTEMBER 2009

Private Gavin Elliott
Private Gavin Elliott on active service in Afghanistan

3 Sept:

Private Gavin Elliott dies as a result of a gunshot wound sustained whilst on a foot patrol in Babaji district, central Helmand province.

He was taking part in a clearance operation when troops came under close quarter attack from insurgents.

Private Elliott was 19, and came from Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Full story here

18 Sept: Actor Ray Winstone visits Camp Bastion, and goes on patrol with Territorial soldiers from 4th Battalion The Mercian Regiment.

"I just want to come here, as a representative of the UK public, to thank the boys and girls," he said.

Sergeant Michael Lockett
Sgt Lockett received his MC from the Queen in June 2008

21 Sept:

Acting Sergeant Michael Lockett MC is killed by an improvised explosive device, while on patrol near Patrol Base Sandford, in the Gereshk district of Helmand province.

He was nearing the end of his tour when he died, and had volunteered to stay on at his patrol base, to ensure that the incoming soldiers knew as much as they could about the local area.

He won the Military Cross in 2007.

Full story here

OCTOBER 2009

10 Oct: A ceremony is held at Headquarters Task Force Helmand, in Lashkar Gah, to mark the transfer of authority in Helmand province between 19 Light Brigade and 11 Light Brigade.

Soldier
Soldier and family on his return from Afghanistan

70 men from 19 Light Brigade were killed during the tour.

The 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment, return to their barracks in Belfast.

Gallery of the 2nd Battalion, the Mercian Regiment returning to Belfast




SEE ALSO
Audio slideshow: Soldier funeral
12 Oct 09 |  People & Places
Audio slideshow: Soldier funeral
12 Oct 09 |  People & Places
Audio slideshow: Soldier funeral
12 Oct 09 |  People & Places

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