The costly Afghanistan conflict comes to a relatively peaceful end

The Afghan conflict comes to a relatively peaceful end Photo: Ben Birchall/PA Wire

As the world's attention focuses in on Ukraine and the fear, real or exaggerated, of a shooting war in eastern Europe, a conflict that proved hugely costly in British blood and treasure is drawing, more or less peacefully, to a close.

Thirteen years since the first British deployment, the Ministry of Defence has announced that a significant milestone has been passed in the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

British forces have now pulled out of all but two of their bases in Helmand. This weekend they completed their withdrawal from Lashka Gah, once Task Force Helmand headquarters; fulcrum of British operations at the sharp of a war fought in heat and dust against an enemy that was often deflated but never fully defeated.

The walls come down.

If visitors found life at Lashka Gah a little basic and limited – and not just by the huge blast proof walls of sand, steel and concrete that surrounded it – it was as Las Vagas compared to the tiny FOBS - forward operating bases - that were home to the front line troops for unremitting months on end.

These tiny outposts were to be found at the end of an arduous and nervous drive in armoured convoy across IED country. I remember on one such journey passing the wreck of a Russian tank – a rusting monument to another mighty army Helmand has humbled. There was a grim sense of military continuity in all this.

The bulldozers move in.

Sometimes the British would establish their bases in the crumbling ruins of forts left behind by their forefathers in the nineteenth century when Britain fought two Afghan campaigns. Always, there would be memorials to the dead of this latest Afghan war. Names, regiments, dates. Brief details that belied enormous sacrifice.

At the height of the fighting nearly 10,000 British troops were in Afghanistan. By the end of this year, combat operations will have come to an end. The task of securing whatever gains the British and their NATO allies have made will be handed over to Afghan forces of uncertain quality.

Has it been worth the lives lost or the many hundreds more changed forever by traumatic injury? Al Qaeda can no longer call Afghanistan home; but the Taliban is a power still to be reckoned with.

Many British soldiers will look back with pride on their time in Afghanistan.

But few, surely, will miss it.