ABOUT 150 South Yorkshire soldiers have been taking lessons in Afghan languages and culture to help them prepare for the Army’s latest deployment to war-torn country.
Troops from Sheffield, Rotherham, Barnsley and Doncaster make up about half of the 300-strong deployment of the Light Dragoons regiment, which is heading to Helmand Province next month.
As well as practising tactics for fighting Taliban insurgents and learning drills for dealing with roadside bombs and casualties, the training programme has also focused on ensuring the soldiers can mix with the local population.
Lieutenant Colonel Sam Plant, Light Dragoons commanding officer, which is being deployed for six months, said troops started preparations last autumn.
Speaking on a visit to South Yorkshire to discuss homecoming parades and events for when his regiment returns, Lt Col Plant said: “We place a high degree of importance on cultural training.
“Although we have interpreters, soldiers and officers have undertaken language courses in Pashto and Dari, the main languages spoken in Helmand, which really help to break the ice when we are out on patrols and have to converse with the local population.
“We have also had assistance from Afghans living in the UK who have given presentations on the local culture which has made a massive difference.
“The culture is different over there and the training has helped soldiers to prepare for the tour and how to treat the local population.”
Lt Col Plant said lessons were learned about issues ranging from how to approach families, to what hand gestures should be used so as not to cause offence.
“Some gestures are entirely normal in the UK but would be inappropriate in Afghanistan,” he said. “We want to embrace the local culture and build bridges with the local Afghan population.”
The tour will be the Light Dragoons’ fourth deployment to Afghanistan, having previously served there in 2006, 2007 and 2009.
The regiment was also deployed to Iraq in 2003 and 2005.