Helicopters boost troops in Afghanistan

Merlins will be used to ferry troops and supplies around Helmand

The first RAF Merlin helicopters have arrived in Afghanistan to address the acute shortage of aircraft, which has been blamed for the rising toll of deaths and injuries to British soldiers. The aircraft,dispatched from RAF Benson in Oxfordshire, are being reassembled at Camp Bastion, Helmand. The first batch will be flying within weeks, with the full complement of six to be operational by the end of the year.

The Merlins can carry up to 20 people and will be used to ferry troops and equipment, reducing the number of land convoys, which have been repeatedly hit by the Taliban. Roadside bombs account for more than 80 per cent of recent British and Nato casualties.

Before his own death from a roadside bomb, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the most senior British officer to die in action since the Falklands war, complained about his soldiers having to risk road moves because of the shortage of aircraft.

The system for managing helicopter movements in Afghanistan was "clearly not fit for purpose," Lt Col Thorneloe said in a memorandum.

"I have tried to avoid griping about helicopters – we all know we don't have enough," he said. "We cannot move people, so this month we have conducted a great deal of administrative movement by road." This increases the troops' exposure to IEDs [improvised explosive devices].

Nato uses charter air companies, mainly from eastern Europe, to ferry supplies. However, their crews have grown reluctant to undertake risky missions after one of the helicopters was shot down, killing some of its crew.

The Merlins are being sent to Afghanistan after the withdrawl from Iraq and there was concern that they may be vulnerable to Taliban ground fire which has brought down several helicopters recently.

However, following a £42m refit, which also prepared the helicopters for the high altitude and fluctuating temperatures in Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence says they are ready for service. An MoD spokesman said: "The Merlin is a well protected helicopter and the fleet has already successfully flown thousands of missions in Iraq, often in the face of significant danger. We are, however, taking measures to further improve the Merlin ballistic protection."

The news comes as RAF chiefs are reportedly preparing to sack up to 10,000 staff – a quarter of their manpower and close up to five large air stations. The moves are said to be designed to pre-empt cuts under a strategic defence review pledged by both Labour and the Conservatives after the next election.

*A British soldier from the 7th Battalion The Rifles, attached to the 3rd Battalion The Rifles Battle Group, was killed in Afghanistan yesterday, the MoD said.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant - Dublin

£13676.46 - £16411.61 per annum + OTE: SThree: SThree Trainee Recruitment Cons...

Ashdown Group: Marketing or Business Graduate Opportunity - Norwich - £22,000

£18000 - £22000 per annum + training: Ashdown Group: Business and Marketing Gr...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Commission: SThree: Are you great at building rela...

Ashdown Group: Database Analyst - Birmingham - £22,000 plus benefits

£20000 - £22000 per annum + excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Application Sup...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before