Afghanistan: not Tyrone

Residents are demanding that the British army stop using a Co Tyrone village as a training centre for its war in Afghanistan. They say that family life and farming activity are being destroyed by low-flying helicopters late at night.

The Irish government has been asked to raise the issue with Downing Street.

"Two nights this week, my family's sleep has been disrupted and my children terrified," said Ardboe farmer Dermott McKenna (35).

"A helicopter hovered about 100 feet above our house at 11.45pm on Monday. The noise was deafening. I have three young children – aged between two and eight. They were terrified. They awoke crying – they didn't know what was happening.

"The following night, the helicopter began hovering overhead at 12.40am. It stayed there about half an hour. My cows were so frightened they ran through a fence. Thankfully, they ended up in another field and not on the road.

"The cattle were spooked by the whole experience and have been difficult to handle."

A local second world war aerodrome, near the shores of Lough Neagh, is used by the British army. SDLP assembly member Patsy McGlone said: "People had enough of military activity in this area during the Troubles.

"They thought a decent night's sleep would be part of the peace dividend. They don't want low-flying helicopters nor anything to do with a war which they don't support.

"British military spokesmen tell us how important this training is for operations in Afghanistan. There are very few Arabs and no sand in Ardboe. We have no connection with this war and no interest in being connected to it.

"These helicopters are intruding on a quiet, rural community. All Ardboe wants is to be able to sleep at night so the British army should find somewhere else to do its training."

McGlone has contacted the Northern Ireland Office about the issue and also asked the Irish government to intervene.

Dermott McKenna said he had spoken to the British Ministry of Defence after heavy helicopter activity last year. "I've already explained to the MoD that my children are terrified because they hear this horrendous noise in the dark and don't know where it's coming from.

"At night, that's impossible. The British military are doing this to piss us off. There are plenty of less populated places in Britain for them do their training where they would be wanted and wouldn't be disturbing anybody."