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Remembering two decades of commitment and sacrifice in Afghanistan

X-Ray Company 45 Commando conduct a winter patrol near FOB Nolay
8 July 2021
The Prime Minister’s announcement today of the withdrawal of the majority of UK military personnel from Afghanistan brings the curtain down on two decades of commitment and sacrifice.

From the first day to the last, the Royal Marines and Royal Navy have played their full part in a mission in a land as far removed from the oceans as any in which the Senior Service has been deployed.

That mission has evolved from cruise missile strikes fired from submarines with pinpoint accuracy at Taliban strongholds and commando sweeps through the mountains, through to extensive peacekeeping patrols on the ground and in the air, and more recently the training and mentoring of Afghani security forces.

The White Ensign flew over some major base such as Camp Bastion or one of the outposts and forward operating bases throughout the many iterations of Operation Herrick, the principal UK mission in Afghanistan between 2004 and 2014.

On at least three occasions – Herrick 6 (October 2006-April 2007, 9 (November 2008-April 2009) and 14 (May-October 2011) – the Royal Marines led that mission.

But throughout, there was no branch of the Senior Service which was not involved in Afghanistan on the ground – or remotely.

It involved ships and aircraft which have now passed into history – Fearless, Illustrious, Sea Kings, Lynx, Harriers.

It demanded the efforts of naval divers, surgeons and medics, engineers and technicians, air and ground crew, logisticians, Royal Marines musicians.

And few Royal Marines who served in the Corps between 2001 and 2014 did not endure at least one tour of duty.

In doing so they added names such as Sangin, Kajaki, Lashkar Gah and others to battle honours carved in the Corps annals: Trafalgar, Zeebrugge, Normandy, Borneo, Falklands.

We will never forget your courage and service, particularly of those who were injured and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin

Commandos called in air strikes from the Harriers of the Naval Strike Wing and were supported by the wings of the Royal Marines.

For four years, the Sea Kings of the Commando Helicopter Force were deployed non-stop over Afghanistan. By the time they returned home to Yeovilton in 2011, they’d ferried 80,000 troops around the country and safely delivered 700 tonnes of equipment in more than 3,800 missions.

And when they left, the Fleet Air Arm remained. Lynx of 847 Naval Air Squadron flew reconnaissance/overwatch/cover for those below.

And the eyes-in-the-sky of the Navy, the ‘baggers’ of 854 and 857 Naval Air Squadrons played a key role in curbing terrorist activity on the ground tracking illegal movements and shipments.

Over five years, the intelligence they provided led to the arrest of 150 insurgents and the seizure of nearly 220 tonnes of weapons, bomb-making kit and drugs – the fruits of 2,000 missions and 9,000 flying hours.

Success in war invariably comes at a cost. Afghanistan left its imprint on all who served there. It demanded the ultimate sacrifice of more than 450 personnel, more than 60 of them Royal Marines.

First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Tony Radakin said: “Today we mark the immense contribution of all those in Defence, in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines who served with distinction during twenty years of operations in Afghanistan.

We particularly thank serving personnel, veterans and families for your commitment and dedication. We will never forget your courage and service, particularly of those who were injured and those who made the ultimate sacrifice.”

With the end of combat operations in 2014, the Senior Service’s involvement in Afghanistan has been much reduced. When Operation Toral, the support and mentoring mission to Afghani security forces – now 450,000 strong – comes to an end, the final few Royal Marines mentoring there will return to the UK.

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