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
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
News
i100
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Extras
indybest 9 best steam generator irons
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
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

Project Officer (HMP Brixton Mentoring Project)

£24,000 per annum pro rata (18 hours per week): Belong: Work as part of a cutt...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £45000 per annum + uncapped: SThree: Key featuresA highly motivated ...

DT teachers required for supply roles in Cambridge

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: DT teachers required ...

Secondary supply teachers required in Wisbech

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Secondary teachers ne...

Day In a Page

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering