Ministers have been accused of covering up a failed test of the Trident nuclear deterrent weeks before a commons vote on it.
Soldiers in Afghanistan
Two soldiers from the Thames Valley are sent back out to Afghanistan
Two soldiers from the Thames Valley have recently been deployed to Afghanistan to serve in Helman province.
Trooper Daniel Fograscher, known as Foggy to his mates, is 21 from Thame, Oxfordshire. He is deployed to Afghanistan on his first tour of duty with the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment. The Tankies are using the British Army's latest armoured vehicles to bring security to Helmand Province.
In general, British troops in Afghanistan are responsible for driving out the insurgency and improving security for the local population in their area, while at the same time training up their Afghan counterparts who are increasingly taking over responsibility for maintaining security in their own country. The ultimate aim is to ensure that Afghanistan can never again become a safe haven for international terrorists who threaten the UK and the Western world
"I'm a Mastiff driver at the moment - it's a bit different to my old Fiat Punto back at home! Actually it's like driving a big truck really. We are experts in fighting from armoured vehicles and have adapted our skills on the Challenger 2 tank to use the new vehicles in Helmand. The Mastiff's thick armour and heavy weapons allow us to be aggressive and take the fight to the insurgents."
It is Tpr Fograscher's first tour overseas and Helmand is a far cry from home. He explains:
"It's a very plain area - it's grey, not green like back home. There are lots of people in the streets and most of them seem happy to see us - they put their thumbs up when we patrol past. What is really different is the number of animals in the street here. There are lots of wild dogs around. With busy and narrow streets, flanked by high walls and deep ditches, it takes care and patience to manoeuvre the big Mastiff through the Afghan villages.
"I drive for my Squadron Leader which is an extra responsibility, I make sure everything is ready to go and we've got everything we need for the mission, so the wagon is ready when he needs to go
"I've been in one big contact with the enemy so far this tour. In the driver's seat I can't fire back but I keep my eyes open tell the gunner where the enemy is; I also prepare the next box of ammunition to pass up - it's pretty intense."
The job is exhausting; Daniel and his comrades often conduct three patrols in a day and can spend days living off the vehicles. The threat of enemy action is ever-present although the Tankies have great faith in their equipment. With these stressful working conditions and long hours the lads prize every opportunity to relax and thing about something else for a while. Tpr Fograsher said:
"To relax out here I go to the gym, do weights and run laps of camp, but the most important thing for support out here is the other lads - we all live in a tent together and chill out together."
Foggy feels that the mission is vital and that the work done by ISAF in bringing peace to Helmand is a good job to be doing:
"I reckon that being here is really worth it; the Afghans deserve our help and it's in the UK's interests too. I do miss my mates back home though and look forward to going out on the town when I get back. The first thing I'm going to do when I get back is celebrate; probably a few pints down the Six Bells in Thame with my mates."
Captain James Atkinson (26) from Henley on Thames, has been deployed for the second time and is serving in Helmand province with 52 Armoured Engineer Squadron, 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers - where he is responsible for co-ordinating the battle against deadly Taleban roadside bombs.
In general, British troops in Afghanistan are responsible for driving out the insurgency and improving security for the local population in their area, while at the same time training up their Afghan counterparts who are increasingly taking over responsibility for maintaining security in their own country.
52 Armoured Engineer Squadron has the specific role of providing route proving and clearance capability - clearing routes from improvised explosive devices (IEDs) in order to protect soldiers and equipment. Capt Atkinson is based in the operations room where he works as part of the planning team, looking at options for route clearance and proving tasks and co-ordinating his colleagues on the ground.
Capt Atkinson said:
"There is a lot of job satisfaction from what I do. The squadron of which I am a part has a direct influence on the safety of our troops and local people by destroying IEDs. Being part of this work brings a real sense of achievement.
"Afghanistan is a troubled place but it is definitely improving, helped by the huge international support from NATO countries. Since my last tour in Afghanistan in 2008 it is striking just how considerably the Afghan forces have improved."
James was brought up in Reading and attended Little Heath Secondary School in Tilehurst, before going on to study at the military college Welbeck and the Royal Military College of Science. He now lives in Henley on Thames with girlfriend Erin (23) who works as a nanny.
Since joining the Army in 2006, James has served in Germany, Canada, the USA, Jordan, Belgium, Cyprus and the United Arab Emirates, as well a conducting a previous operational tour of Afghanistan. In his spare time he enjoys running and playing football, as well as following his football team Aston Villa.
"The tour is going well but I am looking forward to returning home in April and seeing Erin again. Being away from her is the hardest part of being on tour."
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