After five years, UK troops return control of Helmand capital

Kim Sengupta witnesses a key step in transition as Lashkar Gah is handed over

Five years, two months and 19 days after the Union Flag was raised in Lashkar Gah, heralding one of the bloodiest deployments in the UK's recent military history, the capital of Helmand province passed to Afghan control yesterday.

The handover, with British armoured vehicles rolling out of the city centre was as much symbolic as strategic, a milestone on the exit route from a long and costly war. The heart of operations for the UK mission had been among the first to be chosen for "transition" because of a dramatic fall in violence over the past year, a sign, the Western coalition insists, that the Taliban are in retreat from the area.

Threats by the insurgents to disrupt the day failed to materialise. But, their offensive, which has claimed the lives of a number of senior officials, including Ahmed Wali Karzai, the brother of the Afghan President, continued with attacks across the country, including a bicycle bomb in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif which killed seven people, including a young boy. On Monday, seven policemen were killed at a checkpoint near the city, and two British soldiers had died in the province last week.

But Afghan forces kept Lashkar Gah safe yesterday as they had done for the previous months, and there was obvious pride in that. At the end of yesterday's handover the British soldiers and US Marines were ceremonially asked to depart, and, as they left, were handed bunches of flowers.

There was, however, a degree of unease among senior Afghan officials present at the timeline for the overall disengagement of Western troops from the country, the start of 2015. Colonel Amin Jan, chief of staff of the 3rd Brigade, 315 Kandak (battalion) believed this would lead to problems. He was also deeply sceptical of another plank of the Western policy: negotiations with the enemy.

The insurgents, he claimed, were being controlled by Pakistan and were in no position to deliver and on any pledges peace. "I don't believe in negotiating with the Taliban... They are not independent, they are controlled by others, some of our neighbours, who think Isaf [International Security Assistance Force] and coalition forces are defeated in Afghanistan and they are leaving. But we will continue fighting.

"Also, four years is too short a time for Isaf to leave. We still lack some equipment...We will see if this leads to any problems. We can ask the international forces to help with this."

Gulab Mangal, the Governor of Helmand, also sounded a note of warning. He pointed out that in 1989, having used the Mujaheddin against the Russians, the West abandoned Afghanistan civil war and fundamentalism.

He acknowledged that similarly in 2001, after the fall of the Taliban, the West had again neglected his country and marched into Iraq, despite Tony Blair's promise that "this time we will not walk away".

Mr Mangal said: "The US and UK must understand that the problem of terrorism is an international one and not just something Afghan, so it is in all our interest to stay united and help each other."

Meanwhile, said the Governor, insurgent leaders such as Mullah Omar, the former head of the Taliban regime, who refuse to stop fighting should be eliminated. "The killing of Osama bin Laden by the US forces had a positive effect in getting a lot of them [insurgents] to come into the reintegration process. I think the same will happen with Mullah Omar."

The vast majority of the citizens of Lashkar Gar were on the outside of the security cordon for yesterday's formalities and many were unaware of what was taking place.

Life and Style
“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

JavaScript Developer (Angular, Web Forms, HTML5, Ext JS,CSS3)

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: JavaScript Dev...


£50000 - £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

SAP Data Migration Consultant

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a FTSE 100 organisation are u...

Programme Support, Coms, Bristol, £300-350p/d

£300 - £350 per day + competitive: Orgtel: My client, a leading bank, is curre...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice