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The unit will deploy, for the fourth time in recent years, to replace IX (Bomber) Squadron at Kandahar Airfield, 95 years after it first arrived in the country, as Wing Commander Richard Yates, Officer Commanding 31 Squadron, explained:
Afghanistan is very much a part of our squadron’s history and it is fitting that as we approach the centenary of our formation next year that we will once again fly in Afghan skies.
31 Squadron first operated in the country in 1919 when British and Indian forces were called upon to carry out a land and air campaign when Afghan rebels declared war on the British.
By the end of 2014 there will be no British personnel in a combat role in Afghanistan where the Afghan National Security Forces now take the lead for security throughout the country.
The Tornados, based at RAF Marham, provide vital protection to International Security Assistance Force troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Using Litening or RAPTOR reconnaissance pods the Tornado has the ability to capture important data about insurgent movements on the ground.
This capability, combined with the ability to strike important targets with precision when required, makes the Tornado a formidable aircraft.
In the lead up to their deployment, 31 Squadron this week faced a variety of scenarios designed to mirror what they may encounter when operating for 4 months from Kandahar Airfield.
These included Tornados scrambling at short notice to go to the aid of troops in danger, simulated rocket attacks on the base and the delivery of immediate first aid to casualties, with real amputees from Amputees in Action playing the part of critically-injured personnel.
Throughout the week all personnel have been carefully observed by assessors from the newly-formed operational training centre based at RAF Leeming, who are responsible for training units before they are sent anywhere in the world.
Squadron Leader Simon Reade, exercise director, has been overseeing the training:
Our role is to provide realistic and relevant training to prepare the entire squadron for the range of tasks that they might face in the final stages of operations in Afghanistan. We ensure that the RAF deploys confident and capable personnel through a variety of increasingly complex events.