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Picture of the week: Last servicemen fly out of Afghanistan

Wing Commander Matt Radnall, Officer Commanding 7 Force Protection Wing, boards the last Chinook helicopter - the last British serviceman to leave Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, Afghanistan earlier this week.

His departure and that of the rest of all British troops from the Army base marked the end of the 13-year Afghanistan conflict.

Hundreds of soldiers and airmen were taken from Helmand Province in a major airlift operation, involving helicopters and Hercules transport aircraft. Armed drones and jets patrolled the skies amid fears of a Taliban attack.

As he left, Wing Commander Radnall (42) said: "The adrenalin is still flowing. That is the highlight of 24 years with the RAF Regiment without any doubt.

"It has been an extraordinary morning. It started very early and it was full-on from the word go. The end of each six-month tour we look forward to going home and there is a sense of finality for each individual as you finish that tour but for this one in particular, it is a real sense of occasion about it."

On arriving at an airbase in neighbouring Kandahar, Wing Commander Randall clutched a folded Union flag as he stepped off the RAF Chinook.

"That flag represents commitment, it represents service, it represents sacrifice over the years in Helmand," he said.

Prime Minister David Cameron pledged that Britain would "never forget those who made the ultimate sacrifice".

Allied forces handed the base over to Afghan officials in a poignant ceremony ahead of the airlift, as the Union flag and Stars and Stripes were lowered for the final time. Then up to 300 British soldiers and airmen, as well as more than 500 US Marines, began to depart in a sequence of 18 flights that took everyone to a US air base in Kandahar province.

Airmen from the RAF Regiment stood guard throughout the night at 24 watchtowers while sky patrols flew overhead.

Most of the UK's 453 casualties lost their lives in the fight against the Taliban insurgency in Helmand Province.

When the campaign started 2006, the Government said UK troops would only be there to protect reconstruction. But they became involved in a war against the Taliban uprising and their base increased to a perimeter of 22 miles.

At the height of the Afghan conflict, there were around 10,000 British servicemen based in Helmand, alongside 20,000 US Marines and other nationalities at 180 checkpoints and bases.

Belfast Telegraph


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