Britain has ended combat operations in Afghanistan after handing over its last base, Camp Bastion, to Afghan security forces. The union flag was lowered at the base, which has been the centre of British operations since 2006, at the same time that neighbouring US base Camp Leatherneck was also handed over.
The last British troops are expected to leave Helmand Province within the coming days, with all troops out of Afghanistan by the end of the year, bringing to an end the UK’s 13-year involvement in the country’s fight against the Taliban.
Sky News reports that Britain has lost 453 lives in Afghanistan since 2001, with thousands more injured. The worst year was 2009, in which 108 troops were killed.
Soon after it was established, Bastion grew into a sprawling complex, becoming one of the busiest bases in the country. Britain had originally hoped to fight the illegal opium trade in Helmand Province, but when efforts failed the mission broadened.
At its height, the base was Britain’s third busiest airport after London’s Heathrow and Gatwick. An 11,500 ft runway was built, with planes flying in throughout the night and day.
Bastion’s hospital also became regarded as one of the world’s best, with a casualty having a 98 percent chance of survival if they arrived there within an hour of being injured on the battlefield. Such as its reputation that it was used to train surgeons and nurses back in Britain.
A small number of non-combatant UK troops will remain in Afghanistan in the coming years, however they will only be there to train Afghan troops at the Qargha Officer Training Academy near Kabul.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon this morning issued a statement saying: “It is with pride that we announce the end of UK combat operations in Helmand having given Afghanistan the best possible chance of a stable future.”
Chief of General Staff General Sir Nick Carter said that the handover of the Bastion is significant “not least because of the sacrifice that so many people have made in Helmand.”
He told the Sunday Telegraph: “They are going to have challenges, but I am absolutely confident that the majority of the population in central Helmand will be secured by Afghan forces.”