The UK on Sunday handed over its last base in Afghanistan to the Afghan forces, marking an official end to the 13-year-long combat operations that claimed over 450 British lives in the war-torn country.
“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,” UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said.
The Union Jack was lowered at a ceremony in Camp Bastion in Helmand province, bringing an end to the 13-year war in Afghanistan that has claimed 453 British servicemen and women’s lives.
All British troops will leave Camp Bastion within days, handing over the huge base to Afghan troops.
“Our armed forces’ tremendous sacrifice laid the foundations for a strong Afghan security force, set the security context that enabled the first democratic transition of power in the country’s history, and stopped it being a launch pad for terrorist attacks in the UK,” Fallon added.
Camp Bastion has been the British troops’ main Afghan base since 2006.
The last US Marines unit in Afghanistan also ended its combat operations with the handover of nearby Camp Leatherneck. The US has lost 2,349 personnel in Afghanistan.
Thousands of soldiers have returned to Britain in recent months, leaving only a few hundred members of the Armed Forces operating in the country. Tonnes of equipment have been repatriated, to meet the deadline of ending combat operations by the end of 2014.
A few dozen British military personnel will remain in Kabul to operate an officer training facility nicknamed ‘Sandhurst-in-the-Sand,’ as part of the continued support of the Afghan people. Special forces will continue to operate in the region.
Chief of the General Staff Gen Sir Nick Carter told the ‘Sunday Telegraph’ the handover of Camp Bastion would be significant “not least because of the sacrifice that so many people have made in Helmand”.
“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,” he said.
As the American-led forces pull out of bases across Afghanistan, they have faced attack after attack, with some ground attacks being launched on the day of departure.
Some security experts believe that the Taliban is trying to establish their superiority as soon as coalition forces depart.
The Taliban have carried out a series of operations in Helmand this summer, attacking in areas such as Sangin and Nad-e Ali, where British soldiers spent months battling to maintain control.