A huge airlift to bring thousands of tons of military equipment back from Afghanistan to the UK has begun, ahead of the full withdrawal of British troops by the end of next year.
The British presence will be almost halved by the end of this year to 5,200, and today the UK’s most senior commander in the country, Lieutenant-General Nick Carter, told The Independent that reducing the number of British troops too soon this summer could “endanger” progress already made.
Helicopters, armoured vehicles, trailers and even nuts and bolts are being collected at Camp Bastion, the main operating base in Helmand that, after 12 years of conflict, has grown to the size of a town. Used and out-of-date ammunition is to be sold for scrap.
Lt-Gen Carter, the deputy chief of Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, warned: “It would be unforgiveable if we allowed the gains of the past three years to be lost because we were not able to provide the Afghans with the support to take this through to 2014.”
In Bastion, there are now expanses of dust where canvas villages once stood. Battlefield vehicles including the heavily-armoured 15-ton Mastiff and 20-ton Buffalo mine-protected trucks sit parked in a 700-space compound.