Equipment worth millions set to return from Afghanistan

Those in charge of military logistics have decide which vehicles, helicopters, tents, ammunition and accommodation units to return to the UK Photo: PA Wire

The Ministry of Defence has been explaining how it will bring home millions of pounds worth of equipment from Afghanistan.

More troops will be pulled out of the country by this Christmas and UK combat operations will end completely in December 2014.

Yesterday, NATO handed control of security in the country to Afghan forces for the first time since the Taliban was forced from power in 2001.

That means those in charge of military logistics are having to decide which vehicles, helicopters, tents, ammunition and accommodation units should be brought back to the UK. And which should be destroyed or sold in the region.

There were 10,000 British troops in Afghanistan at the height of this long operation. By the end of the year there will be just over 5,000. The equipment is being cut back commensurate to those dwindling numbers of personnel.

By the end of the year there will be just over 5,000 British troops in Afghanistan. Credit: PA Wire

"This is about the most difficult place in which to operate", says Brigadier Duncan Capps who has been in charge of the huge equipment move.

The operation, he says, is on an "unprecedented scale" for the British military:

  • 2,720 vehicles and helicopters to be brought back from Afghanistan
  • £21 million worth of vehicle and technical spares already returned to UK
  • 53 Jackal patrol vehicles are now back as well as 21 Ridgebacks which originally cost £1.4 million each
  • 600 tonnes of armoured glass has been "demilitarised" and disposed of
  • 300 tonnes of lithium batteries have had to be return for safe disposal in Europe
  • 1,815 containers were either disposed of or redeployed from October 2012 to May
  • Medical equipment and bases "gifted" to the Afghan forces worth £630,000
  • 137 bases at height of conflict; 13 now; just five by this October
  • 10,000 personnel in 2012; 5,200 by end of 2013; no combat troops in Jan 2015

99% of vehicles will return to the UK but rations, fuel and certain types of ammunition will be destroyed.

It costs more than £3,000 to bring back one container from theatre (the military has nearly 5,000 of them) and for some kit, it is not cost effective to transport it back to Britain.

The most sensitive equipment like vehicles and helicopters are flown out of Afghanistan on transport planes to the Al Minhad airbase in nearby United Arab Emirates. From there it is transported back to the UK by ferry to Marchwood military port in Southampton.

Road moves out of Afghanistan for the most expensive and most sensitive pieces of equipment are too risky.

Ninety nine per cent of vehicles will return to the UK but rations, fuel and certain types of ammunition will be destroyed. Credit: Reuters

Other equipment is driven out through the notorious Khyber pass into neighbouring Pakistan en route to the port at Karachi.

When that route is not available, the kit has to take a huge detour via the countries on Afghanistan's northern border - Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan - from where it travels many thousands of miles by train to the port of Riga in Latvia.

The number of British bases in Afghanistan has been reduced from 137 at the height of the conflict to only 13 now. By the Autumn that number will have been cut to just five.

Some bases have been "gifted" to the Afghan security forces as well as night-sights, beds and bedding.

American forces moving into Camp Bastion after 2014 are likely to benefit from UK tents and accommodation which will be left behind.

After 444 British lives lost, 12 years of fighting and billions of pounds in costs, the British combat operation in Afghanistan is finally coming to a close.

And the challenges of redeployment are every bit as complicated as the deployment.