AN army regiment with soldiers serving in Afghanistan is to be granted the freedom of Shaftesbury.

Soldiers from The Rifles, formed in 2007 from the Devon and Dorset Light Infantry, will receive the honour on September 5.

Town mayor Lester Dibben said a desire to show the support of Shaftesbury people for troops in Afghanistan had been among the reasons councillors had voted to grant the regiment the freedom of the town.

“We wanted to demonstrate that the soldiers have not been forgotten and that we recognise what they are doing out there on our behalf,” said Cllr Dibben.

A parade will be held in front of the town hall and will be followed by a march through the town in a symbolic exercise of the freedom granted to the soldiers.

“Shaftesbury’s connections with the military go back to the time of Alfred the Great and the freedom of the town was last granted to the Devon and Dorset regiment in 1998. We wanted to renew our support,” said Cllr Dibben.

The second battalion of The Rifles lost five men in a single Taliban attack in July and a further four members have been killed in separate attacks.

Rifles secretary Lt Col (rtd) Geoff Nicholls said soldiers on active service would be pleased to know that communities were lining up in their support.

“The regiment will be tremendously proud to accept the freedom of Shaftesbury, which is the highest honour the town can give.

“I will be there on September 5 with 100 troops from the first battalion, who have recently returned from Afghanistan,” said Lt Col Nicholls.

Tony Coombes, the secretary of the Gillingham branch of the Devonshire and Dorset Regimental Association, added: “I have spoken to a number of our serving soldiers in The Rifles and they are very glad of the support they receive, and we in turn have the greatest admiration for the job they are doing in very difficult circumstances.”

Wilf Readman, the chairman of the Shaftesbury branch of the Royal British Legion, welcomed the gesture, saying it was in keeping with the town’s support for troops.

“It creates a direct link between the town and the regiment, and helps to support efforts like Christmas collections and comfort box appeals.

“As an ex-soldier, I can tell you that it’s very important that a town thinks enough of you to show its support in this way,” said Mr Readman.