The 350-strong Battlegroup has spent the last three months on operations in Basra but the soldiers are back early thanks to the improving security situation there. Before the soldiers left southern Iraq a ceremony was held at the Contingency Operating Base (COB) in Basra. The Regimental flag was lowered for the last time while a piper also played a lament.
After an overnight flight the first tranche of the Battlegroup began arriving back in Germany this afternoon with the remainder due to return to their home bases in Münster and Osnabrück on Sunday 3 February 2008. The RDG Battlegroup's return marks another phase in UK forces' move to an 'overwatch' role in Iraq, and part of the fall in UK troop levels set out by Prime Minister Gordon Brown last autumn.
During their time in theatre, in addition to routine security patrols in and around Basra, The Royal Dragoon Guards have have conducted counter-smuggling operations and taken the lead in training the Iraqi Department of Border Enforcement in tactics and techniques designed to reduce the flow of lethal-aid across the Iran-Iraq border. In a series of protracted operations, known collectively as Operation CERTAIN SHIELD, the Battlegroup deployed to the border to the East and North East of Basra both in their armoured vehicles and in a light heli-borne role to carry out this critical role.
RDG Piper, Lance Corporal Derek Beatty, plays the Regimental march as the flag is lowered
[Picture: Cpl Ralph Merry RAF]
Giving Iraqis the skills and space to tackle problems for themselves while standing by to support them if needed, is a key element of the British Forces' 'overwatch' role. The Royal Dragoon Guards provided Iraqi forces with training in unarmed combat, surveillance, patrolling, vehicle maintenance, and first aid. The Iraqi border patrols learned how to coordinate anti-smuggling operations and to track and tackle illicit smugglers.
Lieutenant Colonel Tim Hyams, Commanding Officer of the RDG Battlegroup, said:
"It is evident that the determination and courage of the Iraqi Security Forces, the training we have delivered to enhance their capability, and the success of our own operations and those who served here in Basra before us, has resulted in increasing stability in the area.
"Those of us coming home early can do so secure in the knowledge that we have played our part and played it extremely well."
The operations were often challenging and dangerous. In the course of a protracted operation that itself saw The Royal Dragoon Guards conduct deliberate obstacle crossings of the Shatt Al Arab by night through Basra City, a patrol from A Squadron came under sustained attack near Al Qurnah from improvised explosive devices, mortar and small arms fire.
The patrol, under Captain Matthew Stait and Troop Sergeant Major Anthony McCormack, responded with calm and restraint, aware that to over-react during what was the heaviest contact during the current deployment could well have had a significant effect on the wider situation within Basra province. Having inflicted casualties on the enemy and avoided collateral damage, they broke off the engagement and extracted without loss.
Improvements in security and the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces in southern Iraq have already allowed the reduction in UK troop numbers to around 4,500 personnel at the end of 2007. If current favourable conditions continue it is expected that the British Force in Basra province will reduce to around 2,500 troops. Operations and training at the Iraq-Iran border will continue as part of the British-led Multi-National Force South East's 'overwatch' role.