Article published in The Mirror, 27 October 2014.
Since commanding British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003 I have closely followed the campaign there, especially from the time our troops deployed to the south of the country in 2006.
In Helmand British forces have fought in the most intensive combat since World War 2 and Korea.
In often horrific battle conditions, they have unfailingly shown the ferocious fighting spirit and extraordinary courage under fire for which British troops are renowned the world over.
In thousands of hours of combat with the Taliban, our men have not lost so much as a single fire-fight.
But the cost has been high.
453 British troops have died in Afghanistan since 2001, 404 killed by enemy action. I was proud to be associated with the Mirror’s campaign to recognize their sacrifice through the Elizabeth Cross, now presented to the next of kin of all troops killed in battle.
2,188 have been wounded in action. Hundreds have lost limbs or suffered horrific maiming. I have met many of these brave young men and have been humbled by their courage and resolve even though their lives are changed forever.
Contrary to popular opinion this enormous sacrifice has not been in vain. The achievement of our forces has been to kill and capture large numbers of enemy fighters intent on bringing down the government in Kabul and murdering and oppressing the Afghan people.
A battalion from my own regiment, the 1st Royal Anglians, for example, estimated they killed over a thousand Taliban fighters during their 6-month tour. Among them were international jihadists from around the world including Britain.
A desire by government ministers to cover up enemy losses for reasons of political correctness has meant the British public are not aware of the damage done by our forces to the Taliban.
Yet if they hadn’t dealt with them, many would have turned to terrorism against the West. The head of MI5 went on record saying that British citizens are safer because of the heroic actions of our forces in Afghanistan.
Even though British soldiers have played a key role in training the 350,000 strong Afghan security force, their future success against the forces of jihad is far from certain.
We are seeing today the consequences of the British and American governments pulling out their armies prematurely from Iraq. There is every likelihood of the same thing in Afghanistan unless significant forces remain there, especially intelligence networks, air power, special forces, combat advisers and trainers.
Failure to do this would mean the Taliban are likely to regain control over large swathes of Afghanistan, giving a base for international jihadists to again threaten the West. This would be a betrayal of the immense sacrifices made by our fighting troops.
The government also has a duty to honour those sacrifices back home. The record has not been good, especially in the early days of the Helmand deployment when medical care for the severely wounded was often atrocious. The government must ensure that our wounded, their families and the families of the dead are cared for in the best way possible, whatever the cost may be.
© Richard Kemp 2014