THOUSANDS of troops from Catterick Garrison have taken over at the head of the peace-keeping effort in Afghanistan.

The 4th Mechanized Brigade from the North Yorkshire garrison has been deployed to Helmand province as troops start their latest tour.

The brigade – known as the Black Rats – last served in the area in 2010.

More than 6,500 personnel from the Army, Navy and Royal Air Force make up Task Force Helmand, and the Black Rats will act as the lead formation of the task force until March next year.

Brigadier Bob Bruce, Commander of the brigade, took charge of the force from Brigadier Douglas Chalmers, Commander of 12 Mechanized Brigade, during a simple ceremony at their headquarters in Lashkar Gah, on Wednesday.

The next six months will see the brigade working in support of the Afghan Army and all elements of the Afghan National Police, enabling the Afghan forces to take control of security in their own areas.

Brigadier Bruce said: “Our focus throughout this deployment will be on assisting our Afghan allies to deliver security to their people. We are superbly well trained and equipped to do this.

“Real success has been achieved. As the Afghan security forces continue to grow in capability and confidence, we will reduce our profile. I am planning to send 500 troops home by the end of this year.”

Several other Catterickbased Army units have also been deployed, including The Queen’s Royal Lancers, The Royal Dragoon Guards, 4th Regiment Royal Artillery, 1st Battalion Scots Guards, 1st Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland, 1st Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment and 1st Battalion The Mercian Regiment.

Soldiers from Catterick have been arriving at Camp Bastion on daily flights from the UK over the past few weeks at the start of their six-month tour.

The troops have been moving to their respective locations across Helmand province following the completion of a week of acclimatisation and training at the main coalition base.

The 4th Mechanized Brigade has a long history, having been formed in the deserts of North Africa at the start of the Second World War.

They fought in a series of major tank battles, including El Alamein, under the command of the original Desert Rats. It was at this time the troops adopted the distinctive Jerboa, or Black Rat, emblem that they continue to wear as their insignia today.