It was dubbed the “Forever War” – the longest military campaign yet waged by our soldiers.
The war in Afghanistan was triggered by the horror of the September 11 terror attacks which felled the Twin Towers.
US-led coalition forces invaded the country targeting Osama Bin Laden – the architect of the atrocity – his al-Qaeda fighters and the Taliban who sheltered him.
A total of 39 Scots, including personnel from Tayside and Fife, Aberdeenshire, Moray and the Highlands lost their lives.
Many more were physically injured or bore the invisible psychological scars of their service.
Brave Scotsmen and women were always at the heart of the campaign which spanned 20 years – longer than World War One and Two combined.
It cost trillions of dollars and left a total of 457 British troops dead.
Our Impact investigations journalist Stephen Stewart went to Afghanistan as a war reporter in 2009 and was embedded with the Black Watch as they carried out airborne surgical strike operations against Taliban strongholds in the Afghan “heart of darkness”.
His life was transformed by his assignment. He came home, joined the Army in 2011 and then deployed as a soldier with the Royal Regiment of Scotland to get the real inside story of life on the frontline for our troops in one of the most dangerous countries on the planet.
Now, he looks at the legacy of the bitter combat and how – as the last of the troops come home for the final time – many fear that the “Forever War” is in danger of becoming the forgotten war as the sacrifices made in the killing fields of Helmand and Kandahar are overlooked.
‘Huge debt of gratitude’
Boris Johnson told the UK Parliament on July 7 leaving the war-torn country was “fraught with risks”.
He spoke as the Taliban made speedy advances all across Afghanistan while British and US troops head home.
He said: “If you ask me whether I feel happy about the current situation in Afghanistan, of course I don’t. I’m apprehensive.”
A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “The majority of UK troops have now withdrawn from Afghanistan and Operation Toral is drawing to a close, in line with the Nato mission.
“The country owes a huge debt of gratitude to the 457 British personnel who lost their lives in Afghanistan, and to those who sustained life-changing injuries.”
UK Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said: “Operation Toral is drawing to an end, but our enduring support for the Afghan Security Forces and Afghan Government has not.
“We owe a huge debt of gratitude to all those who have served in Afghanistan over the past 20 years, particularly those who lost their lives. Their efforts have helped prevent international terrorism and set the country on the path to peace. We hope the deal struck last year will form the basis for progress.
“We will now continue this important work as we transition to a new phase in Afghanistan.”
The Impact team
- Words by Stephen Stewart
- Design by Cheryl Livingstone
- Graphics by Roddie Reid
- Data visualisations by Lesley-Anne Kelly
- Photographs, video and audio by Jason Hedges, Mhairi Edwards, Drew Farrell, Blair Dingwall and Morven McIntyre.