BRITISH troops have left all but one forward operating base in Helmand province, as the UK reaches a major milestone in the drawdown from Afghanistan.
Just one base, Sterga 2, remains in Helmand outside Camp Bastion, effectively becoming Britain’s front line in the area, as the UK works towards withdrawing all combat troops by the end of this year.
In an operation lasting more than a month, three important bases have been closed or handed over to Afghan control.
Main Operating Base (MOB) Lashkar Gah – the former headquarters of UK military forces in Afghanistan – and Patrol Base (PB) Lashkar Gah Durai have been handed over to Afghan control. And yesterday final equipment was brought back to Camp Bastion – which itself is slowly being closed down – from a third base, MOB Price.
They are the latest milestones in a drawdown that has seen UK bases reduce from 137 at the height of the campaign, while Afghan forces are now leading 97 per cent of all security operations across the country and carrying out more than 90 per cent of their own training.
Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: “The hand-over and closure of our bases across Helmand underlines the progress UK forces have made to increase security and stability across the province but also to build up the capability of the Afghan forces who will carry that work forward.
“Those service personnel who have served in Lashkar Gah and Lashkar Gah Durai and at MOB Price as part of successive UK brigades have made a huge contribution to the campaign which has safeguarded our national security at home.
“UK combat operations will cease by the end of this year but our support for the Afghan people will continue.
“Meanwhile, our troops will continue the mammoth task of getting our people and equipment home by Christmas.”
The main base at Lashkar Gah, which opened in 2006 and served as the headquarters of Task Force Helmand until it moved to Camp Bastion in August, was handed over to the Afghans in a ceremony on 24 February.
Lashkar Gah Durai, which commands an important junction in Helmand, was handed over to the Afghans on 8 March, while MOB Price, which closed just yesterday, was the UK’s largest forward location for most of Operation Herrick.
The head of British forces in Helmand said the handover of three of the largest British bases in Helmand marked a “historic moment” in the UK’s military campaign in Afghanistan.
Brigadier James Woodham, Commander of Task Force Helmand, said “history would judge” the success of the UK mission in Afghanistan.
He said: “If I speak to my Afghan counterparts, they are hugely grateful for the investment of the British forces here in central Helmand.
“They believe the progress they have made, the confidence that they have now, will hold them in good stead for the future.
“I guess ultimately history will judge the worth of what we’ve been doing at our government’s request here.”