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Farewell to KAIA C17 cockpit view of a takeoff from Kabul International Airport
By the time you read this, Headquarters Allied Rapid Reaction Corps (HQ ARRC) will be in the process of finishing its tour in Afghanistan and the first people will be on their way back to Innsworth.  Some of our people will have spent a full year away from home and for the others, like me, it will be the end of (only) 6 months away. 


Just because we are coming home doesn’t mean that the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission is complete, far from it.  I suspect that despite the considerable progress made over the last year whilst we have been here, there will continue to be some dark days ahead. 


It is also possible the ARRC will return to Kabul in the not too distant future, to take another turn in the roster, shared with the other headquarters from nations which contribute the NATO Force Structure.  We are currently penciled in to return in 2015 so mark that year in your diaries now! 


The good news is the UK commitment to ISAF is starting to decrease and ARRC personnel are the first part of the withdrawal announced by the Prime Minister.  Numbers will probably continue to reduce throughout the next few years until the end of 2014.  


The ARRC witnessed unification of the ISAF mission across Afghanistan in 2006 and we may see the beginning of the next mission in 2015. 


What do I mean by the next mission in this case?   By the end of 2014, the handover of security to the Afghans will be complete and NATO will remain in a supporting and training role, in order to ensure that the Afghan armed forces can withstand any resurgent insurgent campaign.  It is vital that the allies remain, otherwise the efforts and investment over 13 years may have been in vane.  I believe this is what the pundits mean when they talk about the withdrawal of combat troops.

Welcome to the civilian side of Kabul International Airport

This has been a long year for many of the people in the headquarters and they will be looking forward to coming home and some stability with their families.  Some will be leaving us for new jobs and we will be welcoming many new arrivals.


For the first time since moving from Germany there will be the opportunity for a period of consolidation and rebuilding of the esprit de corps that the ARRC famously enjoyed when it was based in Germany.  I am glad that my team will remain almost entirely intact.  Not only will having the expertise be welcome but we all know each other better for our shared experiences.


Whilst I would like to put my feet up entirely, life is unfortunately not like that.  Building upon the Afghan experience, the ARRC will be facing a new challenge through preparation for becoming the standby land component command for the NATO Response Force (NRF) in January 2013.  Again, the ARRC will be taking our turn in the roster along side our sister HQs, but this time preparing for and ready for the unexpected.   


What do I mean by preparing for the unexpected?  Well 12 months ago, who would have imagined that we would have seen the unrest that engulfed the Middle-East and North Africa and an operation in Libya during 2011.  The turmoil is still ongoing in Egypt, Syria and other countries and who knows where it will lead.


This will not be the last that you will be hearing from me.  My next series of blogs, starting after Easter, will take you through the process by which we will train to take our place on standby in the NRF.


Ian Woodbridge