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What Was The British Role In Afghanistan?

In 2014, British combat troops left Afghanistan. British forces had been in the country since 2001 when they were sent as part of a coalition tasked with intervening in Afghanistan to find the leaders of al-Qaeda after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

By the end of 2001, the Taliban regime in Afghanistan had collapsed but an International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) remained. ISAF’s role was to oversee the transition to a new government and provide security for the redevelopment of the war torn country.

In 2006, as part of a reorganisation of ISAF (now under NATO control), British troops were sent to the southern province of Helmand. Their intended role was to provide stability and security for reconstruction projects, but their arrival provoked a violent response from a resurgent Taliban.

Numerous operations were launched to try and push Taliban insurgents from key locations. To maintain some form of control and provide security for the local population, troops also operated regular patrols from their Forward Operating Bases (FOBs), smaller Patrol Bases (PBs) or Checkpoints (CPs). These patrols were under constant threat of ambush from insurgents, who could use the landscape to their advantage, launching attacks from within the dense vegetation of the ‘Green Zone’ along the Helmand River or from maze-like compounds with hidden escape routes and firing points.

From 2008, the Taliban increasingly began to use Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) to target troops in vehicles and on foot patrols. New kit, clothing, equipment and vehicles were gradually developed to help meet this threat. But initially, casualties were high. In 2009, there were 108 fatalities among British troops, more than twice as many as the previous year.

In Britain, media coverage especially of repatriation ceremonies helped to bring greater public awareness of the conflict. There was a growing unease about the original aims of military intervention and its likelihood of bringing peace. At the same time, there was a visible groundswell of support for troops fighting in Afghanistan. New service charities the most high profile of which was Help for Heroes successfully campaigned to raise money for the war’s young veterans.

There was an increasing recognition that the long-term solution to Afghanistan’s problems had to come from within the country itself. Efforts were made to transfer more responsibility to Afghanistan’s own security services and administration. On 20 November 2010, NATO announced a timetable for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan. The plan, signed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the UN’s Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, would see control of security handed to the new Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP).

In late 2014, British combat troops were withdrawn from Afghanistan. The base at Camp Bastion, which had been the central hub of British military operations in Helmand Province, was handed over to Afghan forces. In total, 454 British service personnel lost their lives in Afghanistan and many more were wounded.

Small numbers of British troops continue to help train and advise the Afghan National Security Forces, but are no longer engaged in active combat operations. With the Taliban still active, the future of the country remains uncertain.

Author: By Amanda Mason

Reference: Imperial War Museum Website (25th February, 2016)