Newquay military commander on withdrawing from Afghanistan
A MILITARY commander from Newquay, who names RAF St Mawgan as the inspiration behind his career, has spoken of the challenges still faced in Afghanistan.
Air Commodore John Bessell, 48, is responsible for co-ordinating supplies, services and communication for UK forces in the country, ranging from medicine, food and ammunition to transport and accommodation.
As commander of Joint Force Support based at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, the former Tretherras School pupil, a father of two, now has the task of transporting equipment and resources 7,300km back to the UK in preparation for Afghan forces to assume control of national security.
In an exclusive interview, he told the Cornish Guardian his men still faced a perilous job as they worked towards full withdrawal of UK forces by the end of 2014.
"We're still very much involved in supporting Afghan combat operations in their first summer fighting season in the lead," he said.
"Increasing success means we're able to either close or transfer bases. This is a very challenging and often hazardous task. It involves removing all the equipment that we normally use to protect us, and returning land to the original owners in the condition we first acquired it."
Around 40 per cent of material would be either handed to the Afghans or sold, he said, although anything that could be used by the enemy must be disposed of or returned to the UK. Vehicles had to be cleared of ammunition, cleaned, repaired and bio-washed to ensure no "unwanted hazards" were introduced back into the UK.
Air Commodore Bessell said his men had endured tough times over the past 12 years ensuring soldiers had everything from medical and combat supplies to letters and parcels from home. Supplies could be flown in, but the final miles must be undertaken in special convoys known as Combat Logistic Patrols. "This is dangerous work as the roads are often seeded with improvised explosive devices and the trucks are often attacked by insurgents," he said.
"For more than 12 years our logisticians have fed, kitted, accommodated and supplied all those on the front line. All our lives are driven by logistics every day, but we only tend to notice this when things go wrong, yet the people who deliver logistics are every bit as selfless and vital to success."
Much work remained to be done as the role of the UK Armed Forces evolved from combat to training, advising and assisting the Afghan National Security Forces, said Air Commodore Bessell.
"We can be justifiably proud of the ultimate sacrifice paid by many men and women who served in Afghanistan. It's vital we don't forget what they've done for us. The best we can do for them is to see the remainder of the task through to the best of our ability, and that's what my team is doing, selflessly, day in, day out."
He said he loved returning home to Cornwall, and making the most of the "finest coastline on the planet", and retained strong links with RAF St Mawgan, the base that inspired him to join the RAF as a young man.
"As part of our training for Afghanistan I brought my key team down to the station last year," he said. "Working with celebrated international academics we studied how to make a greater difference to securing our part in Afghanistan's future - oh, and we did a little surfing."