UK FORCES HANDOVER COMMAND OF MAZAR-E-SHARIF PRT TO SWEDISH CONTROL
Mazar-e-Sharif - Afghanistan: Yesterday at 1400hrs UK Forces handed over command responsibility for the Mazar-e-Sharif Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT MeS) to incoming Swedish Forces. The ceremony was held at Camp Northern Lights, the new base for the Mazar-e-Sharif PRT. This handover is part of a series of changes taking place in Northern Afghanistan this week.
Colonel Mike McMahan, from the 1st Battalion Royal Gloucester, Berkshire and Wiltshire Light Infantry, today transferred control of the Mazar-e-Sharif PRT to the new Swedish Commander, Colonel Bengt Sandstrom, in a ceremonial handover attended by representatives of the Afghan Government, Security Forces and ISAF. General Lindstrom from the Swedish Operational Command said, " This is an important step for the Swedish Armed Forces, to take the responsibility for the PRT MeS. I am proud that Sweden can increase our contribution to your country". Colonel Sandstrom went on to say, "I am extremely glad to be standing here and it is a great honour for me and the soldiers that will serve the PRT and Sweden. Now that Sweden have taken the lead, it will mean a strengthening of Sweden's long-term commitment to Afghanistan".
Among the guests at yesterday's ceremony were: General Kieheyer, from the Regional Area Coordinator North (RAC N); Major General Lane, Deputy Commander Operations, ISAF; Governors from all four MeS PRT provinces; representatives from the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police; and several other prominent guests and VIPs. Children from a local school entertained the guests by singing several songs, including the Afghan National Song. The ceremony ended with a commemoration for the three soldiers, 1 British and 2 Swedish, who died on duty, while serving their country and the people of Afghanistan.
In addition to the PRT handover, this week also sees the British transfer control of the Forward Support Base (FSB) and Quick Reaction Force (QRF), both based at Mazar-e-Sharif, to Germany and Norway, respectively. One further change involves, the RAC N, which will move to a new location at Mazar-e-Sharif. The move of the, German led, RAC N will lead to an enhanced strategic ability as the RAC N will now be based alongside the FSB and QRF in a separate compound in Mazar-e-Sharif.
The process of planning these changes in the North has been conducted over several months so that ISAF forces were able to provide a seamless transition from the old command to the new. Continuity of service was a concern that was at the forefront of the planning process and key personnel have been embedded within the current system to ensure that this continuity occurs. The professionalism, endeavour and commitment displayed by the UK Forces during their time in Mazar-e-Sharif has established a framework that will help the incoming troops assist the Government of Afghanistan in building a better future for all Afghan people.
Sweden now has approximately 250 troops based in Afghanistan. The majority of these are based in the Mazar-e-Sharif PRT, but they also have a small number based in the RAC N, the Mazar-e-Sharif FSB and in Kabul.
UK forces are now focusing their attention on South Afghanistan. An initial force of approximately 1,000 troops has already been deployed to Kandahar and Hilmand provinces. These will be joined by an additional 2,500 troops by the end of July as part of ISAF's, Part III, expansion into the Southern Provinces. The UK will take over command of the Lashkar Gah PRT, as well as providing troops for the Multi National Brigade South.
Photographs are available from this office on request.