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Afghanistan: The human cost of the conflict

Andrea Byrne meets Hazel Hunt, who lost her son in Afghanistan Photo: ITV Wales

It will feel to most of us that we have been talking about the NATO summit coming to Newport for a long time. Security precautions and safety measures in preparation for the arrival of world leaders has dominated the headlines. But for many, NATO and the alliance’s decisions have dominated their lives for much longer and with irreversible personal consequences.

The US-led NATO invasion of Afghanistan took place in 2001 and since then NATO countries have been involved in a long and difficult mission in the country. The subject will have featured highly on subsequent summit agendas. I’ve been to meet those whose lives and loved ones have been profoundly affected by the decision to intervene in the country. I wanted to find out if they think it has been worth it.

33 Welsh soldiers lost their lives in Afghanistan Credit: ITV News Wales

On the eve of the 5th anniversary of her son’s death Hazel Hunt invited me to visit his grave with her in Abergavenny. His death is more documented than most. He was the 200th soldier to die in Afghanistan. The vehicle he was driving hit an improvised bomb. She told me it comforts her to visit as often as she can and still sits and reads to her son.

Watch Andrea's report:

Hazel shared her thoughts with me about Richard's deployment as part of NATO’s mission.

I support the lads in their job that they were doing because they do it so very very well but I don’t necessarily but don't agree with politics behind it ....he had a job to do and he wanted to do it but we feel on the one hand he was cheated of not being able to do that but on the other hand we just wish he hadn’t been there at all.

It’s with you every single day when you wake up...when you go to bed. Wherever you go there are memories all the time.

– Hazel Hunt

The number of UK service personnel killed in the conflict has now reached 453 and 33 of those are Welsh. Thousands more of course have been seriously injured.

I also met Afghanistan veteran Stephen Handley from Cardiff. The former Royal Welsh Fusilier left for the country a proud soldier. He returned without his legs after stepping on a bomb during a patrol.

Stephen Handley lost both of his legs while serving in Afghanistan Credit: ITV News Wales

I don’t exactly remember standing on it but I remember being up in the air an looking at the top of the trees and it was pretty obvious then that I’d been blown up. Hit the deck pretty quickly. The dust settled. I looked down to my feet and checked down. My one foot was gone and my other one was hanging on.

– Stephen Handley

Astonishingly he has no regrets and his sights are now set on sprinting in the Paralympics.

But it is not only the bereaved and the injured who have had their lives changed by the conflict. It’s left its mark on the next generation too.

Ashley Jones and his father, Paul, who serves in the Welsh Cavalry Credit: ITV News Wales

Ashley Jones from Wrexham is now considering a career as a Marine - inspired by his dad Paul who serves in the Welsh Cavalry.

He is incredibly proud of his father and wants to follow in his footsteps. But growing up, Paul was often based abroad with the army or away in Afghanistan for long periods.

He told me with hindsight, he's got questions for NATO's leaders.

I’d ask them why they spent so long fighting there when ultimately there was never going to be a war one. It could be ongoing for years and years and years.

– Ashley Jones
Hazel Hunt says she will never get over what happened to her son Credit: ITV Wales

For Hazel Hunt, Stephen Handley and Ashley Jones, NATO's decision to send troops into Afghanistan changed their lives unimaginably.

British troops begin their withdrawal now and continue until the end of the year. US troops will begin a rolling withdrawal next year through to 2016.

Once NATO leaves, the real test of whether it has all been worth it will begin.

Watch the full interview with Hazel Hunt – the mother of Richard Hunt – here:

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