The UK Armed Forces’ twenty years in Afghanistan
More than 150,000 UK Armed Forces personnel have served in Afghanistan since 2001, now our mission there is drawing to a close
Over the last 20 years, more than 150,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen have contributed to operations, paving the road for a safer and more secure Afghanistan.
The mission in Afghanistan has centred around denying terrorism a safe haven from which to launch attacks around the world. There has been no international terrorist attack mounted from Afghanistan in the past 20 years.
Initially involved in combat operations fighting the Taliban and tackling the insurgency at its heart in Helmand, the UK Armed Forces initially led the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This was known as Operation HERRICK.
Following the end of combat operations in 2014, British and NATO forces continued to commit significant resources to Afghanistan as part of NATO’s new ‘train, advise, assist’ mission. The codename for the British part of the mission was called Operation TORAL.
The Taliban gave safe haven to Al Qaeda in Afghanistan which allowed the terrorists to plan and carry out attacks around the world. The UK joined many other nations in a NATO-led military intervention, supported by a UN Security Council Resolution to prevent the country once again becoming a haven for international terrorists.
Here are the key moments:
9/11 Attacks (September 2001)
The conflict was sparked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York by members of al-Qaeda. The US accused the Taliban of protecting Osama Bin Laden (the mastermind behind the attacks).
This was the first time that NATO invoked Article 5 in its history. This is known as collective defence.
Article 5 of the Washington Treaty (NATO’s founding document): “an attack or provocation on one of its member states is considered as an attack against all.”
The first UK troops were deployed on the ground in November 2001. On 7 December, the Fall of Kandahar in the south saw the Taliban driven from its last stronghold.
The International Security Assistance Force (2002)
In 2001, NATO created the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which was backed by the United Nations. The force’s initial role was to secure Kabul, the Afghan capital.
By April 2002 there were 1,700 British soldiers working alongside other NATO allies. This number would rise significantly in the coming years.
Camp Bastion (2006)
2006 was a key year for the UK in Afghanistan and was the year they moved into the Helmand province in the south, one of Afghanistan’s most volatile regions.
Camp Bastion was a purpose-built camp in the desert, acting as a launchpad for thousands of British service personnel stationed in the south. Camp Bastion grew to the size of Reading, with a perimeter more than 20 miles long.
At its peak, it was home to 40,000 people, supporting up to 600 flights a day, making it the UK’s fifth busiest airfield. In Helmand Province alone, there were 137 UK bases and about 9,500 UK troops were stationed there.
Ending combat operations
In 2010 the largest joint offensive of the conflict involved 15,000 British, American and Afghan troops to push the Taliban from their strongholds in central Helmand.
Meanwhile at the NATO Summit in Lisbon, a timetable for handing over security control from ISAF to Afghan forces by the end of 2014 was being agreed.
On 2 May 2011, US Special Forces killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
In October 2014, Camp Bastion was handed over to Afghan forces marking the end of the British combat operation (Op HERRICK).
‘Britain has played a huge and honourable role in trying to do everything we can to give Afghanistan the chance of stability and security, and to make sure that it never again is a haven for terror. I know that the real long-term answer for Afghanistan is not simply security and stability and peace with its neighbours, but the real answer for Afghanistan is prosperity and growth and jobs and investment and wealth. That is absolutely key to the future of the country.’
— Prime Minister David Cameron, March 2013
Operation TORAL — A renewed mission to support Afghanistan
After combat operations ended in 2014, British and NATO forces continued to commit a significant amount of resource to continue building a safer and more secure Afghanistan.
The NATO-led mission Resolute Support Mission (RSM) in Afghanistan was launched on 1 January 2015.
This new mission saw NATO take on a ‘train, advise, assist’ role and predominantly work to support the Afghan government with specialist advice.
With the primary aim to build capacity within the Afghan National Security and Defence Forces to better help them defend Afghanistan and protect its people, this was the start of the NATO mission, Resolute Support.
Operation TORAL is the name given to the British element of NATO’s Resolute Support mission in Afghanistan. All three services have deployed on Op TORAL either providing protection to NATO advisors, flying NATO personnel around Kabul or training the Afghan National Army in the west of the city.
Here is what you need to know about Op TORAL:
The Kabul Security Force
Stationed in various locations across Kabul, the British Army have led the 7-nation-strong Kabul Security Force (KSF). The KSF provided protection and secure transportation for coalition mentors and advisors as they advise the Afghan government in the capital. These soldiers were nicknamed by the mentors as ‘guardian angels’.
As part of the KSF, the British Army’s Quick Reaction Force (QRF)— an armed military unit capable of rapidly responding to developing situations — helped provide vital security for Afghan security forces.
The Toral Aviation Detachment (TAD)
The RAF’s Puma helicopters and their crews deployed in Kabul provided helicopter support to the NATO forces.
The Puma detachment enabled mobility within Kabul, preventing NATO forces from having to travel by road where the risk is higher.
Being the movement asset of choice in Kabul, the Pumas agility and the capability of the crews are unparalleled.
During their deployment, the Pumas racked up a total of 12,800 hours in the air, transported 126,000 passengers and moved 660,000 kgs of freight.
Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy (ANAOA)
In partnership with the Afghan National Army the UK Armed Forces pioneered a new officer academy in Kabul. Modelled on the British Army’s Royal Military Academy Sandhurst they devised a training course for the Afghans.
Initially, British forces took the lead in delivering training, including infantry skills and leadership. The real gift to the Afghan forces here though, was the introduction of a ‘train the trainer’ program. This empowered the Afghan forces to take control of their own development and soon after, take the lead in delivering the course to officer cadets, with their British mentors there to help.
British personnel from all three services have provided training and advisory roles within the Afghan National Army Officers’ Academy and Infantry Branch School among other Afghan institutions.
The academy, dubbed ‘Sandhurst in the sand’, has now trained over 5,000 Afghan National Army (ANA) Officers, including 300 women. ANAOA now produces 75% of the ANA’s combat-ready officers.
As the UK Armed Forces’ service in Afghanistan draws to a close, we must remember the sacrifices made by the British Service personnel during operations there. Their bravery and selfless commitment underpins the UK Armed Forces’ legacy and service in Afghanistan.
To see the full timeline of the UK Armed Forces’ time in Afghanistan click the link below:
11th September: The September 11th Attacks. Four co-ordinated terrorist attacks against targets in the United States…