British Troops Depart from Helmand Province

British Troops Depart from Helmand Province

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Last week saw the final departure of British troops from Afghanistan. Picture courtesy of The Mirror

Monday, October 27, saw the final departure of British troops from Helmand Province in Afghanistan, marking the end of Britain’s 8-year campaign in the province against Taliban insurgents.

Security in the region has now fully transitioned to the Afghan National Army and the British and American Helmand Task Force are now in Kandahar, Afghanistan’s second largest city, preparing to fly home this week.

500 coalition personnel will remain in the region to oversee and mentor the Afghan army.

The conflict in Afghanistan began in 2001 following the attack on the Twin Towers by Al-Qaeda, the international terrorist organisation. Al-Qaeda had been using Afghanistan as a base of operations under the protection of the sympathetic Taliban government.

The Taliban itself was a radical regime formed of the most extremist elements of the Mujahedeen, the national resistance against the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan between ’79 and ’89. Both the Taliban and their allies Al-Qaeda were hostile to America and its allies and intolerant of the religious and political freedoms expressed in the West. The invasion by coalition troops in 2001 aimed to uproot Al-Qaeda and topple the Taliban government which shielded them and oppressed the Afghan people.

Helmand Province, one of the southernmost areas of Afghanistan and on the border with Pakistan’s isolated north, was a stronghold of Taliban resistance. In 2006 British troops entered the province with the aim of eradicating Taliban insurgency.

Now, 8 years on, British forces leave Helmand for good. In the course of the campaign 453 British servicemen and women were killed and £19 billion spent. With operations complete, questions are now being asked about the effectiveness of the campaign and whether the money and lives spent in the region were worth it.

Lord Prescott, a member of the cabinet in 2001 when the troops were first sent to Afghanistan, wrote in the Daily Mail that “being the world’s policeman carries a heavy price and does not justify the heavy loss of lives.”

In a telephone survey of 1,000 adults, the BBC found that 24% said the deployment of troops had left Afghanistan “better off”, 25% said the country was “worse off” and 44% said there was no real difference.

Political figures, members of the military and support groups for the families of wounded or killed servicemen and women now begin a process of review and reassessment of the 13-year campaign in Afghanistan. With Remembrance Day in a matter of weeks, the question now is whether the price for peace in Afghanistan was too high. ​

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