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.

News
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
Sport
Arsenal supporters gather for a recent ‘fan party’ in New Jersey
football
News
i100
Sport
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
film
Life and Style
Balmain's autumn/winter 2014 campaign, shot by Mario Sorrenti and featuring Binx Walton, Cara Delevingne, Jourdan Dunn, Ysaunny Brito, Issa Lish and Kayla Scott
fashionHow Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
News
people
News
BBC broadcaster and presenter Evan Davis, who will be taking over from Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight
peopleForget Paxman - what will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Life and Style
fashionCustomer complained about the visibly protruding ribs
News
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
life
News
Tovey says of homeless charity the Pillion Trust : 'If it weren't for them and the park attendant I wouldn't be here today.'
people
Sport
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Employment Solicitor

Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: MANCHESTER - Senior Employment Solici...

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Day In a Page

Evan Davis: The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing to take over at Newsnight

The BBC’s wolf in sheep’s clothing

What will Evan Davis be like on Newsnight?
Finding the names for America’s shame: What happens to the immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert?

Finding the names for America’s shame

The immigrants crossing the US-Mexico border without documents who never make it past the Arizona desert
Inside a church for Born Again Christians: Speaking to God in a Manchester multiplex

Inside a church for Born Again Christians

As Britain's Anglican church struggles to establish its modern identity, one branch of Christianity is booming
Rihanna, Kim Kardashian and me: How Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Olivier Rousteing is revitalising the house of Balmain

Parisian couturier Pierre Balmain made his name dressing the mid-century jet set. Today, Olivier Rousteing – heir to the house Pierre built – is celebrating their 21st-century equivalents. The result? Nothing short of Balmania
Cancer, cardiac arrest, HIV and homelessness - and he's only 39

Incredible survival story of David Tovey

Tovey went from cooking for the Queen to rifling through bins for his supper. His is a startling story of endurance against the odds – and of a social safety net failing at every turn
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little