As UK troops withdraw from Afghanistan, our region’s casualties are remembered
- Credit: PA
A former head of the army said Britain should be proud of its peacekeeping efforts in Afghanistan after combat operations were formally ended yesterday.
A poignant ceremony took place at Camp Bastion as British and US troops handed over control of the Helmand province base to Afghan forces.
Norfolk-based Lord Dannatt, who was chief of general staff between 2006 and 2009, said: 'Thirteen years into our intervention in Afghanistan, eight years into our intervention in the south of Afghanistan, we are now leaving a country that's got a chance of a decent future.
'We have had to conduct a fully-fledged counter insurgence over the last eight years which has been difficult and expensive in blood and treasure, but we have given them [the Afghans] the chance of a better life.
'I think we should be proud of what we have done while we remember with great sorrow those comrades we have lost.'
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Yesterday's handover ceremony saw British and American troops stand side by side as the Union flag and the Stars and Stripes were lowered at Camp Bastion for the last time.
It brings to an end a costly chapter in the 13 year campaign, with the vast majority of the UK's 453 casualties losing their lives in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Helmand.
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The UK, which has had a presence in the southern province since 2006, is preparing to withdraw combat personnel entirely from Afghanistan by the end of the year.
Several hundred military advisers and trainers are expected to remain in Kabul after the end of the year, but ministers insist they will not fight.
Michael Grigg, the father of Royal Anglian soldier James Grigg, of Stradbroke, who was killed in 2010, yesterday welcomed the news.
'I'm pleased that the troops are all coming home and will be safe,' he said.
Elaine McCulloch-Brandt, of Wisbech, whose son, L/Cpl Luke McCulloch, 21, was killed in action in 2006, whilst serving with the Royal Irish Regiment, said: 'These lads went out there and gave their lives and believed what they were fighting for. But a death is not worth anything as far as I'm concerned.
'It upsets me when I see another family going through what we have gone through. What is the next stage and where are they going next? What has the Ministry of Defence got in store for them?'
The handover ceremony was attended by a total of about 200 British troops, US Marines and Afghan forces, with a few civilians also invited.
Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon said: 'It is with pride that we announce the end of UK combat operations in Helmand having given Afghanistan the best possible chance of a stable future.
'Our Armed Forces' tremendous sacrifice laid the foundations for a strong Afghan Security Force, set the security context that enabled the first democratic transition of power in the country's history, and stopped it being a launch pad for terrorist attacks in the UK.'
• A total of 453 British forces personnel or Ministry of Defence civilians have died while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001. And our region had its share of tragedy:
Flight Sergeant Gerard Bell was killed following the crash of a RAF Nimrod MR2 aircraft in Afghanistan on September 2. The 48-year-old was from Ely. He was a consummate professional whose sharp sense of humour and great sense of occasion could make any moment special.
Lance Corporal George Davey died as a result of a tragic firearms accident on the British base at Sangin in Helmand Province on May 20. The 23-year-old, who was born in Great Yarmouth and later moved to Beccles, joined the Army in 2004 and joined the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment the same year. He was described a kind-hearted, loyal and selfless commander who worked tirelessly for the benefit of others.
Corporal Darren Bonner, from Gorleston, died on May 28 whilst serving with the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. The 31-year-old was killed when an explosion hit a British convoy in the Gereshk region of Helmand Province. He was described as a devout Christian who was 'passionate about the army'. His company commander described him as a man who had 'huge emotional intelligence'.
Private Aaron McClure, 19, from Ipswich, of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, was killed by 'friendly fire' north-west of Kajaki on August 23. Pte McLure's mother, Lorraine, said later: 'I don't want my son's death to be for nothing.'
Lance Corporal Alex Hawkins, 22, from Beetley, near Dereham, was killed and two other soldiers injured in an explosion in the north-eastern outskirts of Sangin on July 25 whilst serving with 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment.
He was described as 'one of the most promising soldiers of his generation' and his family said 'he was the light of our life.'
Lance Corporal Ben Whatley, 20, from Tittleshall, died on Christmas Eve whilst serving with 42 Commando Royal Marines.
He was killed by enemy fire as he led his men into action against Taliban insurgents, near Lashkar Gar.
His family described him as a 'vibrant, happy person' who was so proud to be a Royal Marine.
Corporal Lee Scott, 26, from King's Lynn, was killed in an explosion while taking part in Operation Panther's Claw, just north of Nad e-Ali on July 10. Nikki Scott, the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment soldier's wife, said: 'He was the most loving, kindest, thoughtful person you could ever meet.' She set up Scotty's Little Soldiers, a charity for the children of fallen soldiers.
Lance Corporal Adam Drane, 23, from Bury St Edmunds, who was with 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, died in a gun fight in Nad e-Ali on December 7. His parents, Desmond and Jackie, said: 'No words can adequately describe what our loss means to us.'
Corporal Stephen Bolger, from The Parachute Regiment, was killed in an explosion near Musa Qala on May 30. Cpl Bolger, 30, who joined the army in 1998, was part of a special forces support unit when he was killed. He had served as an army cadet in Cromer between 1994 and 1997.
Senior Aircraftman Luke Southgate, 20, from Bury St Edmunds, died in an explosion north of Kandahar Airfield on February 24. The family of the airman, from 2 Squadron, Royal Air Force Regiment, said he was the 'best son, brother and boyfriend any of us could ever have wished for.'
Private James Grigg, 21, from Stradbroke, of 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment, was killed in an explosion in Musa Qala on March 16. Private Grigg was a talented cricketer and a memorial garden was established at the village cricket club after his death.
His family said: 'We grieve deeply but at the same time feel greatly honoured that he should have served his country this way.'
Trooper James Anthony Leverett, 20, of The Royal Dragoon Guards, was caught in an explosion during a vehicle patrol in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand Province on July 5. His family said Trooper Leverett, who was born in Great Yarmouth, but grew up in Sheffield and Rotherham, had been looking forward to his girlfriend Tiffany giving birth to the couple's son.
Lance Corporal of Horse Jonathan Woodgate was on Brigade Reconnaissance Force foot patrol when he fatally wounded by a grenade thrown from behind a wall. The 26-year-old was born in Bury St Edmunds.
Private Lewis Hendry, 20, from Dereham, of the 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, was patrolling in Nad-e-Ali when he was shot on February 9. His family said: 'He was not only a soldier, a son, brother and grandson, but a friend to all.'
Corporal Alex Guy of the 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment was fatally wounded by enemy fire. The 36-year-old, was born in Norwich and grew up in St Neots, Cambridgeshire, enlisted in the Army aged 18. Corporal Guy was leading his section forward to assist a group of Afghan soldiers who were pinned down by enemy fire when he was killed.