Troops to quit Helmand in days


Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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British troops are to leave Helmand province in the coming days, bringing a key chapter in the 13-year Afghanistan campaign to an end.

Afghan officials are poised to take over Camp Bastion, Britain’s last base in the province where the majority of the UK’s 453 fatalities have been killed.

It comes as Britain prepares to withdraw entirely from the country by the end of this year.

By next month more British troops will be deployed against the Ebola virus than in Afghanistan.

Bastion has been the centre of British operations in the country since UK troops were sent to Helmand in 2006.

At the time the Government said UK forces would be there only to protect reconstruction, but they quickly got caught up in the struggle against the Taliban insurgency.

The sprawling base, surrounded by desert, grew to have a perimeter of 22 miles.

Now its runway, at one point the fifth busiest UK-operated airstrip, is expected to handle commercial flights.

Mohammad Naeem, the governor of Helmand, has reportedly said that the takeover of the base by his forces can go ahead because they are now able to control the province without foreign help.

One battalion of troops, believed to be Americans, are expected to be the only foreign forces to remain.

Taliban operations to reclaim towns such as Sangin and Nowzad, once held by British forces, have inflicted heavy casualties on Afghan forces this year.

Chief of the General Staff General Sir Nick Carter has said that security there remains “difficult”.

Quoted by the Sunday Telegraph he said that the handover of Camp Bastion would be significant “not least because of the sacrifice that so many people have made in Helmand”.

He added: “But also we are able to look forward with some pride, I think, about how the Afghans are going to be able to step up to the plate and take all of this on for us.

“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.”

At the peak of the Afghan conflict there were 10,000 British personnel in Helmand together with 20,000 US Marines, Danes, Estonians and other nationalities at 180 bases and checkpoints.

In recent months hundreds of military vehicles and shipping containers with kit have been brought back to the UK.

Several hundred military advisers and trainers are expected to remain in the Afghan capital Kabul after the end of the year, but ministers insist they will not fight.

The Ministry of Defence declined to comment on when Camp Bastion would be handed over.

Published: Sunday 26th October 2014 by The News Editor

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