26 March 2015 by Flt Lt Henderson – Royal Air Force
After thirteen years supporting operations in Afghanistan, the first of the three remaining Royal Air Force Chinooks left Kabul this morning to begin the journey home.
Since the end of combat operations in Afghanistan in October 2014, three RAF Chinooks were retained in the country to assist British troops in non-combat roles but they are now on their way home.
In the early hours of Wednesday 25th March, the first of the heavy lift support helicopter from RAF Odiham in Hampshire was loaded on to the C17, marking the end of the UK Chinook Force’s contribution to operations in Afghanistan.
Synonymous with operations in Afghanistan over the last thirteen years, the Chinook Force has flown over 41,000 hours, extracted 13,000 casualties and its crews have been awarded numerous gallantry awards, including twenty three distinguished flying crosses for bravery in the air.
Group Captain Richard Maddison, RAF Odiham’s Station Commander, said, “The sight of a Chinook in Afghanistan will be iconic to many that have served there, or have witnessed the events from afar. The commitment of the personnel from the Chinook Force – whether in Afghanistan or supporting from the UK and other overseas locations – has been first rate.”
“We return with enormous pride at our contribution over this very testing period and wish those of the Puma Force the very best success as they continue to provide helicopter support in the country”.
Squadron Leader Paul Butler, Officer Commanding Operation TORAL Aviation Detachment said, “It is an honour and privilege to be the last Commanding Officer of the last Chinook detachment in Afghanistan.”
“I have been humbled by the dedication and steadfast work-ethic of the men and women working on the Chinook Force.”
“I am extremely proud of the contribution made by the Chinook Force during combat operations in this country, whether that be providing essential air mobility, moving coalition troops and equipment around theatre or undertaking lifesaving medical evacuation for injured troops.”
“Our role in Afghanistan has changed significantly since the end of Operation HERRICK, our mission on Operation TORAL, whilst different, is no less important. Providing aviation support to coalition troops working to ensure the institutional development of the Afghan government is a fitting end to our time in Afghanistan.”
A RAF Chinook helicopter is loaded into a C17 Globemaster for the long journey back to the UK from Afghanistan. - photo RAF
The return of the Chinooks from Afghanistan also coincides with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon’s announcement to send two Chinooks to the Falkland Islands as part of measures designed to ensure defence resilience. He said:
"These measures will include the return of military support helicopters which were removed in 2006 to support operations in Afghanistan. On current plans this will involve the deployment of two Chinooks, which will be operational by the middle of next year.
"This is a significant capability which will provide reactive 24/7 tactical mobility in order to allow a swift and decisive response to any emerging incidents. The helicopters will also bring a heavy lift capability and will enhance the training opportunities available to the resident infantry company.”
The Chinook aviation detachment in Kabul will handover to the RAF Puma 2 Force from RAF Benson, on the 1st April 2015, the Puma 2 crews will remain in Afghanistan until the mission is complete.