It’s Armistice day today. A time for remembering our military dead. Today, I’d like to remember the British armed forces personnel who died or were seriously injured in the twenty years that we deployed troops in Afghanistan.
According to the House of Commons Library research briefing ‘Afghanistan statistics: UK deaths, casualties, mission costs and refugees‘, 475 UK armed forces personnel died and 616 were injured in Afghanistan.
Another day, I’ll think about all the other people who died, or had their lives destroyed by the war we brought to Afghanistan, civilians, NATO allies, taliban fighters. Today I just want to remember the people who died or were maimed when our government sent them to Afghanistan.
The photograph at the top of this post was taken in Wooten Bassett, Wiltshire, ten years ago. This small town of a little over 11,000 people was the close to RAF Lyneham, the airbase that UK armed forces dead were repatriated to from Afghanistan. More 100 funeral cottages passed through Wootten Bassett. Over time, the people there started to line the streets to honour the dead. One day in 2009, when the cortage was for eights dead service personnel, an estimated 4,000 people lined the route of the cortage and national media started to pay attention.
At the height of the war, in March 2011, the government brought the cortages (but not the deaths) to an end. The Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, announced that repatriation to RAF Lyneham would stop. Future repatriation would be to RAF Brize Norton On the same day, the Prime Minister, David Cameron, announced that Wootton Bassett would become Royal Wootten Bassett, an honour bestowed ‘as an enduring symbol of the nation’s admiration and gratitude’.
I despise Cameron and Fox for what I see as a cowardly attempt to hide the cost of the war and reducing the opportunity for people to honour the war dead.
The American names for the war in Afghanistan speak to the political ambitions of the day ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ was followed by Operation Freedom’s Sentinel. As far as I know, no official name was given to Trump’s for releasing the Taliban leaders and handing over the country to them. Perhaps ‘Operation Lasting Shame’ would be a good fi?
The British eschewed the brash names, opting for Operation Herrick and Operation Torall, presumably because their meanings were more obscure.
The last British troops left Afghanistan in September 2021.
Twenty years. 475 dead. 616 seriously injured.
The politicians have already walked away from Afghanistan. Cameron is a lobbyist now. Fox is an MP who wanted to head the WTO and didn’t make it.
The dead are still dead.
We have a new war memorial (shared with the Iraq war) to remember them by.
It’s not enough.
It never is.