THE Archbishop of Canterbury has honoured Britain’s armed forces who fought and died in Afghanistan, publicly thanking them during a service held in their memory.
In a service of commemoration held at St Paul’s Cathedral in London yesterday, the Queen was joined by Prime Minister David Cameron, senior members of the Royal Family and veterans to honour all those who fought to free Afghanistan from the Taleban.
The Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke of Cambridge, his heavily-pregnant wife Kate, and Prince Harry – who served two tours during the conflict – also attend the ceremony, held to mark the end of combat operations.
The Most Rev Justin Welby paid tribute to all those who served, leaving behind family, facing danger and suffering injury, during the 13-year conflict.
Almost 150,000 UK personnel were deployed to Afghanistan, and 453 British men and women died in the fight against the Taleban insurgency.
In his address, the archbishop said: “Today is a moment for us to say thank you: thank you to all who served, whatever your role.”
Archbishop Welby told those within St Paul’s: “Great is your faithfulness says the prophet Jeremiah, turning to God in a time of deep distress.
“As our nation honours at this service all of you who have served in Afghanistan – forces personnel and many others, alongside so many of other nations – I ask you to hear those same words today, reverberating around our land: great is your faithfulness. You know about faithfulness.” He added: “We thank you for your faithfulness: you who left family behind, you who trained hard, you who did not turn from danger, you who suffered injury and you who risked yourselves to care for the injured.
“I’m told that each wounded person was supported by up to 80 others by the time they got home. Great is your faithfulness.
“We also thank those of you who stayed behind, who let your loved ones go: you who worried for their safety each day and took your phone to your bedside each night, you who lived with the pining of children, as well as your own fears. Great is your faithfulness.”
“And we honour the faithfulness of all those who gave up their lives to give peace and security for others.”
During the service, the archbishop rededicated a cross made of shell casings that adorned a memorial wall in the main Allied base in Afghanistan, Camp Bastion.
It forms part of a new Bastion Memorial Wall at the National Memorial Arboretum, Staffordshire.
Prayers were said for the fallen, civilians left behind while their loved ones served in Afghanistan, and for the people of the troubled country and its leaders. The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Rev Dr David Ison, gave thanks for the commitment of service personnel, aid agencies and support organisations in that country.
He also commemorated “with sorrow and regret” those who were killed and asked for prayer for Afghanistan, calling for remembrance of the “danger which people in that great country continue to face today”.
The service was followed by a military parade through the City of London, which included veterans of the conflict, and a flypast of aircraft used in the campaign, including Chinook, Apache and Sea King helicopters and Hercules and Tornado aircraft.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said in an interview that the 453 UK troops had “paid the ultimate sacrifice to enable us to live in freedom, in hope for peace, prosperity and dignity”.
Yesterday’s commemoration comes after Tony Blair admitted he had not foreseen just how long the struggle in Afghanistan would last when he first deployed troops in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.
In an interview with Forces TV, the former prime minister, who attended the service, said even now it was not properly understood just how much more there was to be done.
“I think we have not yet understood the depth of this problem, the scale of it, and the need for a comprehensive strategy to deal with it,” he said.
“It is not just Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It is happening day in and day out – there are thousands of people losing their lives every few weeks.”
He said he believed his decision to deploy British troops in Afghanistan had been justified, although he acknowledged that families who had lost loved ones may feel differently.
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