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Norwich airman trains to tackle the Taliban in Nevada desert

PUBLISHED: 13:08 03 April 2010 | UPDATED: 09:22 02 July 2010

Wing Commander Howie Edwards, Officer Commanding 13 Squadron, next to a Tornado GR4 in Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Wing Commander Howie Edwards, Officer Commanding 13 Squadron, next to a Tornado GR4 in Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

Ben Kendall

With miles of barren plains rising to dramatic peaks these pictures could be mistaken for Kandahar airfield in the heart of Afghanistan. That is until you spot the Las Vegas landmark Stratosphere Tower protruding in the background.

The Las Vegas skyline is the backdrop as two Tornado GR4's crewed by 13 Squadron Aircrew prepare to take off from Nellis Air Force Base runway.

With miles of barren plains rising to dramatic peaks these pictures could be mistaken for Kandahar airfield in the heart of Afghanistan.

That is until you spot the Las Vegas landmark Stratosphere Tower protruding in the background.

The current home of Norfolk aircrews is in fact Nellis Air Force Base in the Nevada desert, chosen because of its similarity to the environment the troops will soon be experiencing as they patrol the skies in the battle against the Taliban.

RAF Marham's 13 Squadron are undergoing an intensive flying programme as part of Exercise Green Flag - designed to test their metal before being thrown into intense action in Afghanistan.

Among those taking part is Wing Cdr Howard Edwards, the squadron's commanding officer. Born in Norwich and educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, he is a veteran combat pilot who completed more than 100 operational sorties in Iraq.

He said: “We'll be working directly with the Army units on the ground when we do our air exercises out here and we'll be practising with the same Army units who will also deploy to Afghanistan at the same time as us so its excellent training to be talking to the same units we're going to be talking to on the ground in Afghanistan.”

As part of the training 13 Squadron linked up with soldiers from the Army's 16 Air Assault Brigade whose forward air controllers direct the fast jets on to their targets from the ground.

The massive desert ranges covering 15,000 square miles of airspace provide conditions similar to those faced by British forces operating in Helmand province.

A total of eight Tornado GR4 bombers from Marham Wing - one of the largest and busiest units in the RAF - took part in the training which ended on Friday.

The aircraft operate in both an attack and reconnaissance role in Afghanistan and 13 Squadron will take over from another Marham Wing unit at Kandahar airbase later this year. Aircrews in theatre are called into battle on a daily basis due to the intense operational tempo.

Wg Cdr Edwards said: “In the Afghanistan context close air support is vital for UK troops and the coalition troops on the ground. We're in the middle of helping to reconstruct the country with the Afghans.

“However they come up against pockets of resistance and where those pockets of resistance can't be overcome by their own means the soldiers call on us to provide support.

“Normally just a show of presence where we fly fast and low to let the Taliban or insurgents know we're there often breaks off an attack on our troops.”

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