Afghan equipment airlift begins
A major operation to airlift thousands of tonnes of military equipment from Afghanistan has begun as troops prepare to leave the country.
In what could be seen as the biggest spring clean in the world, the redeployment effort will see everything from nuts and bolts to helicopters and armoured vehicles returned to the UK.
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 in control.
The plan is to leave as little as possible behind. At Camp Bastion, the main operating base in Helmand which has grown to the size of a town, there are now expanses of dust where canvas villages once stood as empty tents are removed.
From the heavily-armoured 15-tonne Mastiff and 20-tonne Buffalo mine protected trucks to far smaller trailers and buggies, battlefield vehicles sit parked up in a 700-capacity compound. Used and out-of-date ammunition is collected ready to be sold for scrap. Since January some £70 million worth of British equipment has left Afghanistan and this is expected to increase rapidly as the withdrawal gathers pace.
Lieutenant Charles Ashington-Pickett explained that as well as ensuring nothing goes to waste, the process should prevent weapons and other potentially lethal equipment going astray.
"We class this material as ACTO, meaning attractive to criminal and terrorist organisations," he said. "This ranges from weapons and ammunition to radios, cameras and batteries."
His unit is responsible for taking stock of all kit that is returned as more advanced bases close or scale down.
Bases which will for the time being continue to operate are encouraged to de-clutter to ensure they are ready to pack up quickly when the time comes. Until the beginning of this year roughly £500,000 worth of equipment each month moved through six huge canvas warehouses at Camp Bastion.
They are now handling 60 times as much at about £30 million each month. Some is reused within Afghanistan but increasingly it is being flown back to the UK. Once home it will either be kept ready for future conflicts or sold to other countries.