SOLDIERS preparing for deployment in Afghanistan were put through their paces at the Caerwent Training Area on Wednesday.

Troops from 1st Battalion The Rifles and 1st Battalion The Royal Irish will soon depart for Kabul, where they will spend six months in a protection role with advisers and trainers for the Afghan military and government.

And at Caerwent, where part of the base had been transformed into a mock-up of a Kabul neighbourhood, the troops were thrown into a full-blooded training exercise, simulating the kind of situation they could face in the Afghan capital.

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Explosions and rifle fire signalled the start of the exercise, which centred around a wedding party attacked by insurgents. After being briefed by special forces at the scene, the troops were tasked with treating and evacuating casualties.

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These exercises are meant to be as realistic as possible. Role-players took the parts of local police, civilians, wedding guests and journalists. Some of the actors had been told to welcome the British soldiers, while others acted with hostility, banging on the sides of the armoured cars.

Coupled with realistic make-up effects and agonising screams from the injured wedding guests, this made sure the soldiers were well-prepared for a similar type of incident in Kabul.

The battalions both come under the operational command of the 160th Infantry Brigade and HQ Wales.

The brigade’s commander and head of the army in Wales, Brigadier Alan Richmond OBE, said the upcoming deployment was “the best of British” – troops from all four parts of the UK will be involved.

“The important thing is this is not a combat operation [with] the scenes of fighting that were on the deployments to Helmand Province a few years ago,” he added.

“This is effectively providing a protection role in Kabul to enable individual mentors and advisors to go about their daily business safely and securely…so that Afghanistan can stand on its own two feet, and cope not only with its internal threats but also ensure that it never becomes a launching pad for international terrorism ever again.

"Everybody’s raring to go now. The rangers and riflemen on this exercise have really proven themselves and shown they are ready. They want to go and do an important job."

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Among the soldiers taking part in the exercise was Corporal Thompson, whose 1st Battalion Rifles is based at Beachley Barracks, near Chepstow.

He said: "This is going to be my fourth tour of Afghanistan. There are quite a lot of junior riflemen coming through, and this is their first tour, so it’s been good to develop them and get them ready to deploy. Now everything’s coming together. The lads are looking forward to it and it should be a good tour."

His battalion's commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Matt Baker, praised the facilities at Caerwent.

He said: "Caerwent is a fantastic training area – I can’t emphasise that enough. We’ve got a great urban training area here and also the terrain is great for fitness training.

"We do all sorts of marches and other tactical exercises here, it’s a first-class training area."

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