The RDG's return from the operation in the coming weeks marks the end of the Battlegroup's activities in Iraq. The training they have provided has helped to ensure that the Iraqi Security Forces have the skills needed to bring security and stability to Basra and included patrolling skills, first aid, vehicle maintenance, unarmed combat and surveillance.
In addition, the teams taught border patrol teams how to conduct co-ordinated anti-smuggling operations and how to find and tackle illicit cross-border smuggling teams.
The operations have often been challenging and dangerous. One patrol ran into an ambush by militants when half a squadron of RDG Warrior Armoured Fighting Vehicles were hit in a co-ordinated insurgent attack using improvised explosive devices, small arms fire and mortars. The troops – commanded by Captain Matthew Stait and Staff Sergeant Anthony McCormack – successfully countered the ambush without taking any casualties and were able to complete their mission.
The Battlegroup will return to their bases in Münster and Osnabrück in Germany. Commanding Officer of the RDG Battlegroup, Lt Col Tim Hyams, said:
"We are immensely lucky to be the first troops home. Our job is to deliver effect and that effect was to increase stability in the area. The handover of Provincial Control of Basra to Iraq and the reduction in attacks on our own forces over the past few months demonstrates that, along with previous battlegroups, we have successfully delivered that effect.
"Whilst there is the sense that we have had the best of times, those of us coming home early can do so in the knowledge that we have played our part and played it extremely well."
Trooper Tom Hamilton, 22, from Omagh, added:
"It has been hard work at times but the lads have enjoyed it on the whole and are quite proud of what we have done. I think that we have achieved a lot. We are pleased to be going home although we are a little disappointed that we won't see the whole tour through. We may be going but we'll be thinking of our mates in the other [RDG] squadrons who are staying on."
The departure of the Battlegroup is part of the drawdown in the number of British soldiers operating in Basra, as set out by Prime Minister Gordon Brown in October 2007. The improvements in the security conditions and the capability of the Iraqi Security Forces have already resulted in numbers reducing to around 4,000 by the end of 2007. If these favourable conditions continue, it is expected that the British force size in Basra Province will come down to around 2,500.
Operations and training at the Iraq-Iran border will continue as part of the 'overwatch role' being carried by the British led Multi-National Division South East.
The Royal Dragoon Guards Battlegroup is made up of three squadrons of Royal Dragoon Guards (Prince of Wales Squadron, A (The Blue Horse) Squadron and C (The Black Dragoons) Squadron) who recruit from Yorkshire and Ireland and a company from the 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster's Regiment (Burma Company) who recruit from Lancashire and Cumbria.
UK forces are now increasingly focusing on training and mentoring the Iraqi Security Forces. They also carry out tasks in support of the coalition in southern Iraq, and retain the capability to provide support to the Iraqi Security Forces. Work continues on detailed plans in consultation with US and coalition partners and the Iraqis. Final decisions regarding force levels will of course be made based on conditions on the ground.