'The greatest frustration is the lack of money'

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Indy Politics

As Gordon Brown discussed the role of British troops in Afghanistan with President Hamid Karzai yesterday, Maj John Godfrey, of B squadron, The Light Dragoons, who returned home with his men this week, explains how they risked their lives every day:

"I was in the command vehicle when 2nd Lt Merlin Hanbury-Tenison's Scimitar hit a mine north of Sangin. I felt the vibration in my chest even at 1,000 metres. I threw a glance at Kieron (second in command, Captain Atkinson) whose face showed he also suspected we had lost the entire crew. I felt a sickening lurch of the stomach. The shouts for the ambulance started immediately and we stewed for about 10 seconds. It seemed like an age before we heard they had given a thumbs up.

"The Squadron has been 'in contact' with the Taliban on over 40 occasions. Some have been over in seconds, whereas others have raged without respite for hours. As a rule, the Taliban are skilled and determined fighters. Their use of the ground, camouflage and concealment is quite simply outstanding.

"In an age when a modern army depends so heavily on technology to win its battles, the Taliban could (and have) re-taught us many of the basic principles of soldiering. But they are also not beyond using human shields.

"Any local who has been suspected of having spoken with the soldiers is likely to be immediately interrogated and some may be executed. It is little wonder that the local population can be very wary. We have also been amazed to discover from the elders that many isolated villages believe that we are Soviet troops still occupying the country.

"The single source of greatest frustration for me personally has been the lack of money available to military units operating outside the area designated as the Afghan development zone.

"In Iraq, I thought nothing at all of submitting a request for $20,000 funding for a project. Nothing similar has been available to me in Helmand. This has made it incredibly difficult to influence local nationals. Instead, the squadron has been reduced to handing out sweets and chocolate to children. I would far rather have built schools and drilled wells. The faster we can convince the people of Afghanistan to stand against the Taliban, the faster we will be able to leave the country.

"Conditions on the ground were the harshest I have personally experienced. Temperatures inside the drivers' cabs routinely reached 65C, and rubber soles melted from boots."