( AFP ) - A British battalion achieved an "astonishing" turnaround in the fight against the Taliban, their commanding officer said Saturday ahead of their return from Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Carver, in charge of the 1st Battalion the Royal Anglian Regiment, said Taliban rebels had been "beaten back and dislodged from their comfort zones" over the past six months.
The 600-strong battalion recruited from eastern England, nicknamed "The Vikings", had helped Afghans in the troubled southern Helmand province "return to a more normal pattern of life," Carver said.
The soldiers return to Britain on Tuesday after a gruelling six-month tour of duty which saw them push Taliban militia out of traditional heartlands, allowing reconstruction and development to take place.
"We return with an extraordinary tale to tell," Carver wrote in a letter to the Eastern Daily Press regional newspaper.
"When we arrived in March many commentators were claiming the war was already lost -- but the change in the nature of operations over the six months has been astonishing.
"The Taliban have been beaten back and dislodged from their comfort zones in the Green Zone of the River Helmand because the Vikings have taken a determined fight to the enemy.
"In doing so, we have been involved in some of the most ferocious close quarter combat the British Army has experienced for decades in extremely challenging terrain and temperatures that exceeded 50 degrees (Celsius, 122 degrees Fahrenheit) at their peak."The real measurement of success, however, has not been the numeric destruction of our foe but the embryonic beginning of reconstruction projects and the return to a more normal pattern of life, particularly in the vital town of Sangin."
He added: "Our advances have not been without cost. Nine Vikings have died during the tour and a further 57 have been wounded in battle."
A total of 82 British soldiers have died in Afghanistan since the start of US-led military action in late 2001 to oust the Taliban, the country's hardline Islamist former rulers.
Most of Britain's soldiers are based in Helmand, where Taliban insurgents are said to be teamed up with foreign fighters from Al-Qaeda and opium producers helping to finance the insurgency.
Britain has around 7,000 troops in Afghanistan -- the second-highest after the United States to the United Nations-sanctioned, NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
The figure is set to rise to around 7,800 by the end of the year.