Helmand drawdown 'progressing well'
The hard work of British troops in training Afghanistan security forces has given them an "opportunity" which is now left to them to use wisely, a senior British military commander has said.
Brigadier Rupert Jones, Commander of Task Force Helmand, said the drawdown of British troops in the southern province was progressing well but warned Afghan troops must choose to utilise the training and skills they had been newly equipped with.
UK combat troops now have a much less active role in the country and are more involved in redeployment, advisory, and mentoring tasks.
Many key bases in Helmand province have already been taken down as Afghan forces have been able to establish and maintain security around them, where they would once have been prone to insurgent activity.
The British presence will be almost halved by the end of this year to 5,200.
All combat operations in the country should be over by the end of 2014, leaving Afghan forces fully in control.
Asked how he hoped the legacy of UK combat troops in Afghanistan would be remembered, Brg Jones said: "I think the reality is we've spilled an awful lot of effort in this country over a considerable amount of time.
"The British public are very proud of the courage and sacrifice of the British armed forces here, but actually they should be just as proud of the achievements.
"The reality is that we will be leaving Helmand a transformed province, indeed the whole of Afghanistan is transformed. We should be proud of that.
"We've given the Afghans an opportunity. How they use that opportunity is down to them, but there's no doubt they've been given an opportunity."
Brig Jones, the son of Falklands hero Colonel H Jones, will be handing over command of Task Force Helmand to Brigadier James Woodham in the coming weeks. He said he was pleased with the way the campaign had gone.
The Afghans had "taken the lead" over this summer's fighting season when typically insurgents increase activity levels and had sustained some casualties, but had done a "genuinely impressive job", he said.
He went on: "There's no doubt the insurgents wanted to try and have a decisive effect this summer. The fact that they have not been able to is down to the Afghan performance.
"But this is a dangerous place. Of course there is going to be casualties but the key is that those casualties have not had a decisive impact on the police or the army."
Extra support would be needed at the institutional level as the number of boots on the ground dwindle, he added, but said both the police and the army were now "very capable fighting forces".
Brig Jones's comments were echoed by some of the members of 2 Scots, who had spent their six and a half month tour training and mentoring the Afghan National Police (ANP) at a centre in the volatile city of Lashkar Gah.
Sergeant James Thomson, 34, said he had seen great improvement in the outfit since his first tour two years before.
"The main thing of the credibility of the police," he said.
"The police when I was here last time were a kind of fledgling force, they had some credibility issues and now they've come on in leaps and bounds."
Warrant Officer William Garrick, 30, from Edinburgh, said the Afghan security forces were now much more able to react quickly and effectively to a variety of incidents than they had previously been.
"They are good," he said.
"They are definitely good, a lot better at what they do than we are. You know it's their home country, they know the atmospherics, they can read it much better than we can.
"In terms of reacting to things they can be quicker.
"They may not have the capability in terms of the vehicles, the manpower etc, but in terms of common knowledge they are certainly far superior than we are."