The Defence Secretary yesterday met troops from the same regiment as five of the six men who died in Afghanistan in the deadliest single attack in the country since 2001.
Philip Hammond offered his condolences to soldiers from the 3rd Battalion, The Yorkshire Regiment as they prepared at Salisbury Plain, Wiltshire, for deployment. He told BBC News: “Well obviously today is an opportunity for me to express directly to the men of 3 Yorks my condolences at the terrible events of earlier this week, but also to hear from them how they feel about the mission ahead of them, and crucially, how the families are holding up back home.
“What I got was a very strong and clear message that they are up for this, they know what the job is, they’re well trained for it, they’ve got the kit, they’re prepared and they’re looking forward to getting on with the job and they’re very confident in their skills and professionalism in what they’re going to do.”
Asked if events like this week’s attack gives him and the Prime Minister “pause for thought” in sending troops to war, he said: “Of course that’s something we are looking at and considering all the time but we’re very clear that what we’re doing in Afghanistan is a mission with a purpose.
“The purpose is to protect the security of the United Kingdom and our citizens here at home.
“It’s a mission with a clear end date. Everybody knows what we’ve got to do, what the task is over the next two-and-a-half years, and that the men who are going to do it are well prepared for it, very clear about what they’re doing and very clear about why they’re doing it.”
The soldiers from the 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment were taking part in a training exercise involving hundreds of service personnel as they prepare for the next tour of duty in Afghanistan – Operation Herrick 16.
After speaking to the soldiers Mr Hammond added: “Morale is clearly very good. Obviously everybody is terribly upset about the tragic events that have occurred this week, but they are focused on the deployment.
“The fact is that British casualties are sharply down – notwithstanding the terrible events of this week.
Mr Hammond was joined by the Chief of the Defence Staff, General Sir David Richards, who said he was humbled by the troops he had met and defended the Army’s equipment following the attack carried out by the Taliban.
“You’d expect them, as they are, to be thinking pretty seriously about what they are about to confront but there is absolutely no loss of resolve or determination and I’m just feeling rather lucky that I have such people under my command.”
Sergeant Nigel Coupe, 33, of 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment, was killed alongside Corporal Jake Hartley, 20, Private Anthony Frampton, 20, Private Christopher Kershaw, 19, Private Daniel Wade, 20, and Private Daniel Wilford, 21, all of 3rd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment, when their Warrior armoured vehicle was blown up by a massive improvised explosive device (IED).
Asked if our troops have the right equipment for the job they face in Afghanistan General Richards said: “Every time I go to visit them, and I was out there myself in the period when things weren’t so good, I get nothing but praise for the kit they’ve got today.”
“Be quite clear that this IED - which we are pretty certain it was – was massive and even a main battle tank that had been struck in that way would have had a problem, so there are some things that you can and we do protect against, but there are some things that occasionally the enemy... hit lucky and they did on this occasion.”