SOLDIERS from Aldershot have been patrolling the streets of Kabul as part of the British contribution to the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

The troops from 7 (Para) Royal Horse Artillery have received a warm welcome from people in the Afghan capital — despite being mistaken for Russians when they first arrived.

A total of 37 soldiers, mainly from 1 Battery, are already in Afghanistan, and a further 20 are expected to arrive over the next few days.

Battery Commander Major Stuart Skeates said the soldiers were pleasantly surprised by the reaction they had received from local people.

He added: "Most of the soldiers we have here have been patrolling through Kabul, talking to the civilian population about the role of the ISAF, telling them what we are here to do and finding out what their main areas of concern are.

"A lot of people assumed we were Russians when we arrived because it was the last time they had seen Europeans in uniform, so we have been trying to correct those misconceptions and explain that this is a multi-national force from 18 different countries.

"The reaction here has been excellent. People have been very enthusiastic and very supportive of what we are doing.

"They are keen to help and want to co-operate with the process of rebuilding Kabul."

One of the most memorable encounters with local people was at a bazaar in the centre of Kabul where a patrol had gone to distribute leaflets.

"We were mobbed by hundreds of people who wanted to get a copy of the leaflet.

"They were all keen to know who we were and what we were doing. It was an amazing scene."

Some 77 soldiers from Aldershot-based 9 (Para) Squadron Royal Engineers are also in Afghanistan as part of the ISAF.

They flew out last month with the task of helping to rebuild the infrastructure of Kabul, repairing roads, installing electricity and water supplies and re-plumbing the British Embassy.

Britain is leading the ISAF for the first three months of the mission in Afghanistan and will have an estimated 1,500 soldiers in the country.

They include crack troops from 2Bn, The Parachute Regiment, which moved from Aldershot to a new home in Colchester in 2000, and the Headquarters of 16 Air Assault Brigade, also from Colchester.

The multi-national force is restricting its operations to Kabul, where German, French and British soldiers have been patrolling to ensure stability after the fall of the Taliban.