British Troops Draw Down In Afghanistan

Mar 19, 2014

As U.S. troops begin to withdraw from Afghanistan, forces from the U.K. are doing the same thing. They have closed or handed over to the Afghans all but two of their bases across Helmand Province. They used to occupy more than 130 bases in that area.

The BBC’s defense correspondent Jonathan Beale reports from Helmand.


Jonathan Beale, defense correspondent for BBC News. He tweets @bealejonathan.

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From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young. It's HERE AND NOW.

As American troops draw down in Afghanistan, British forces are doing the same thing. Britain used to have more than 130 bases across Helmand province. There are just two left. The rest have been either closed or handed over to Afghan forces.

The BBC's defense correspondent Jonathan Beale reports.


JONATHAN BEALE: Chainsaws are the soldiers' latest weapon in Helmand, here being used to break down the walls that once protected them. This was Camp Price, once home to 2,000 soldiers, but now it's being turned back into desert from dust to dust, leaving questions as to what legacy the British will leave behind here. Leftenant Colonel Mike Caldicott is leading the last military convoy out of Price.

LT. COL. MIKE CALDICOTT: I only wish that people at home could see the changes that I have seen through my eyes. I wish that they could see that through their eyes. I think they would feel a lot better about the, you know, about the investment and what the work that we've done here, if they could see those changes as I have seen.

BEALE: Do you think it's been worthwhile?

CALDICOTT: I do. Yes, I do.

BEALE: As the lorries are loaded, though, you can still hear gunfire in the distance.


BEALE: British forces have been in Helmand for eight years, but they haven't been able to end the violence. And the overriding feeling among many soldiers here is one of relief that they'll soon be coming home.

CALDICOTT: It's not my country. It's not my nation. I mean, I've come here to do a job. I mean, we've lost guys, yeah, but - and they've done their bit. And the place is so much better place because of it. But I mean, if this was Britain, I'd secure Britain's borders, that'd be a completely different emotion for me, whereas it's somebody else's nation, and I'm happy that they're in a much better place now. But for me, it's just job done, get home.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible) is a case of, oh, no, I'm getting closer going home, and that's so good. Take what you want, get it all gone and let me go on.

BEALE: The end is getting nearer. Once, the British occupied more than 130 bases right across Helmand. Today, there are just two. This is one of the final military convoys carrying the kit, the remnants from one of the last British military bases in Helmand returning here to Bastion, which itself is gradually being shut down. So do they think this is mission accomplished? Leftenant General John Lorimer is the most senior British officer in Afghanistan.

LT. GEN. JOHN LORIMER: There's a lot of things that's still need to be done both in the security area but also, as I said, in governance and also in economic development. And the international community is getting on and assisting the Afghans in doing that.

BEALE: But that doesn't sound like mission accomplished.

LORIMER: Well, I'm looking at it across the country. There's still a lot to be done.

BEALE: Time, though, is fast running out. And back home, judgments about the mission here are already being made.

Margaret Evison lost her only son in Helmand. Mark(ph) was killed while serving in 2009.

MARGARET EVISON: It's nearly five years since Mark died. So I have had time to adjust to his death. There is nothing in my mind that would justify my son's death, Mark's death. Whether we're pulling out at a time when it is more stable, I don't - I'm not sure.

BEALE: Well, David Cameron now says mission accomplished, doesn't he?


BEALE: And what do you think?

EVISON: Well, he has to say that.

BEALE: Planes are being loaded with kit to return to the U.K. And by the end of this year, every single British soldier will have followed. No one's being left behind to assess whether this mission's been a success or failure.

YOUNG: The BBC's Jonathan Beale in Afghanistan. You're listening to HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.