'The men will be scared. But this is what we're paid to do'

With the Marines: A young Lieutenant prepares for action in the mountains of Afghanistan
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The Independent Online

Second Lieutenant Dan Venables points out the snowy peaks of the Hindu Kush on the horizon. They are the height he and his men will be operating at. Right behind him is the wreckage of Soviet MiGs ­ reminders of how another advanced military power came to grief in Afghanistan.

Within days, Lt Venables ­ he is 25 but looks much younger ­ and his squad will likely be sent into the mountains of eastern Afghanistan to hunt down remaining al-Qa'ida fighters.

He is a "mountain warfare specialist". All his training has been geared to this moment. He is "confident" but acknowledges the risks. His men, he admits, might be a little scared.

Lt Venables, a farmer's son from Plymouth, flew into Bagram air base with the rest of Yankee Company on a Tri-star from RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire on Thursday evening.

Lt Venables, tall and fair-haired, is polite, personable, and good looking by conventional criteria. Yet he doesn't have a steady girlfriend ­ the job makes him shy away from long-term relationships. It is difficult enough coping with the worries of his family back home, especially those of his mother Gillian, an English teacher .

Lt Venables admitted: "I would find it very difficult to do this if I was married, or had a long-term girlfriend. It would not be fair on her, and you would feel a sense of responsibility. I was, in fact, engaged for four years. I suppose one of the reasons [for breaking up] was the pressure of the job. But I don't want to make too much of this.

"It is, of course, difficult for one's family. My mother is worried, like all mothers tend to be. My father is quite supportive. He thinks I am doing the right thing, and I am doing my duty."

The sense of "fairness" is something he has also considered in relation to this war. He has not, he stressed, come into it unthinkingly.

"This is the result of 11 September, and I think most people accept that we are doing what we have to", said Lt Venables. " This is important. We are happy in our own minds about what we are doing".

There is not much time for acclimatisation before they begin operations. "Ideally we would like a week, but that may not be possible, but then we must be prepared to go at any time," he said.

"We have been training incredibly hard for this for the last few months, but of course, that is, after all, training", said Lt Venables. He joined the Royal Navy as a marine, served in Northern Ireland, passed the necessary tests to become an officer and has served five years.

"We shall have to see how all that has paid off. We are confident that we have done everything possible to train for this, and we are confident we can do the job. But we also know that is very different from the real thing."

Looking around the tent, he continued quietly: "Considering what we have to do, the men would be more than a little scared. There is, of course, a huge amount of risk involved. But we have got to do it. We are mountain warfare specialists, and this is what we are paid to do."

Lt Venables was at pains to stress that he was not doing anything particularly brave. "It is what we have been training for, and frankly this is something we should be able to do. We know the basics and now it is just a question of putting it into practice. We have been practising in Scotland, but there aren't really mountains as high as these ones there. We are already higher than most high points in Scotland.

"I joined the TA as a bit of a hobby and that has led to this ­ it basically took over my life. But I did not think I would be taking part in our first full scale war since the Gulf. How does it feel? Exciting."

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