(Reuters) – On watch for a possible Taliban attack, Afghan forces on Tuesday patrolled the perimeter and manned guard towers of a vast military base deserted by U.S. and British forces in a volatile southern province.
A day after foreign troops left the crucial base in Helmand, the Afghan army and police prepared to fight on their own without the safety net of air support and aerial surveillance formerly provided by their Western allies.
The last U.S. Marine unit in Afghanistan and the last British combat forces were airlifted out of their former regional headquarters on Monday, a symbolic end to more than a decade of U.S.-led fighting against the Taliban.
What happens next in Helmand could be indicative of Afghanistan’s wider ability to protect itself against the Taliban, and any imminent escalation of hostilities in the province would be a major concern to regional powers.
Helmand has been one of the deadliest battlefields of the war which has seen some of this year’s fiercest fighting.
The international military coalition is now in the process of ending its mission nationwide by year-end and shifting to a support role with only a few thousand military personnel.
“I’m certain we can maintain the security,” said Maj. Gen. Sayed Malouk, commander of the Afghan National Army’s 215 Corps that has taken over the base. It is due to become a training center and house about 1,800 Afghan soldiers.