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Oct 26, 2014 5:19 AM

UK ends combat operations in Afghan province

The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) Britain has ended combat operations in the Helmand province in Afghanistan, defense officials said Sunday.

They said U.K. troops have witnessed the lowering of the Union flag for the last time at the Camp Bastion complex in Helmand.

U.S. and Afghan soldiers also observed the ceremony, which marked the end of operations for the Southwest Regional Command, a U.S. and U.K. coalition operating under NATO's International Security Assistance Force, British officials said.

Camp Bastion has been the center of U.K. operations in Afghanistan since 2006. The handover of the base to Afghan control ends an important chapter in the 13-year Afghan campaign, which started after the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said in a statement that the end of combat operations is being announced "with pride" and that Britain has helped give Afghanistan "the best possible chance of a stable future."

But he told BBC's Andrew Marr show that there is "no guarantee that Afghanistan is going to be stable and safe."

He said the mission has succeeded in the sense that Afghanistan is no longer a safe haven for terrorists planning atrocities against Britain and the rest of Europe.

Fallon said Britain's commitment to support Afghanistan will continue "through institutional development, the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, and development aid."

Britain plans to withdraw its final combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of the year and is planning to give Afghan forces control of a base in Kandahar, the country's second most populous city.

Military advisers and trainers are expected to stay in the capital Kabul.

Brigadier Rob Thomson, senior U.K. officer in Helmand, said Afghan National Security Forces are "more than ready" to assume responsibility for the country's security.

Britain suffered 453 fatalities during the campaign. The vast majority of the fatalities happened in Helmand province.


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