News story

101/2012 - Armed Forces answer British museum’s call to return stolen artefacts to Kabul

The British Armed Forces have returned 843 artefacts from the British Museum to the Afghan capital Kabul, almost 20 years after they were stolen and smuggled abroad.

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The precious cargo, weighing just over two tonnes, left RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, last week (12 July) after the British Museum and the Royal Air Force worked together to make the historic repatriation possible.

Travelling onboard a C17 transport aircraft, the material was first transported to Camp Bastion, the main military base in Helmand. After a short stop, it took off again on the second leg of the journey, on a C130 Hercules aircraft, to Kabul.

The artefacts, some of which went missing from the National Museum of Afghanistan during civil war in the country, and others from more recent illegal excavations of archaeological sites, have now all been safely returned and a selection will go on display in the near future. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed their safe arrival in a press conference, alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, today.

The objects include items made in three separate seizures by customs officials as they were being smuggled into the UK, as well as another group from other investigations by the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police. These objects were identified as originating in Afghanistan by the British Museum and were stored at the Museum for safekeeping and recording until their return to Kabul. Additional objects were saved by private individuals.

Commenting on the move, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond MP, said:

The transfer of these items is a vote of confidence and a step forward in Afghanistan’s journey towards normalisation. It is fitting that the British Armed Forces should play a role in their return, alongside the British Museum and others.

For UK forces to be a part of the process is a symbol of how Britain stands squarely behind Afghanistan in its efforts to become a country capable of standing on its own two feet.

This is the first time the military has assisted in the transportation of historic artefacts to Afghanistan – a task previously undertaken in 2009 by the International Red Cross. A memorandum of understanding between the British Museum and the National Museum of Afghanistan signed in 2011 now ensures that efforts will continue to identify and return further artefacts to Kabul.


Notes to editors

The British Museum’s press release on this subject can be found at

Images and video footage, including interviews with personnel involved with the operation, are available to download from the news packages section of

For more information about this press release, contact:

Ben Wilkinson, Ministry of Defence press office – 0207 218 7954 Olivia Rickman, British Museum press office – 0207 323 8583

The Military transported a total of three crates and three pallets between RAF Brize Norton and Kabul, where it was transferred into the care of the National Museum of Afghanistan. The load comprised of 843 stolen antique artefacts which are believed to have been stolen from the museum during the civil war from 1992-1994.

Afghanistan is making progress towards becoming a more secure and prosperous state. There will continue to be security challenges, however, transition of security to Afghan control by the end of 2014 is on track and achievable. Afghan security forces will soon have lead security responsibility for areas where around 75 per cent of the population live. British forces will no longer be in a combat role or in significant numbers in Afghanistan by the end of 2014, but the UK’s long-term commitment to Afghanistan, as set out in the Enduring Strategic Partnership Document signed on 28 January 12, will last well beyond 2014.

The UK strategy is to build Afghan governance and security forces to the point where they are able to determine their own future, protect their own citizens and with international support, are able to deny haven to terrorists who would threaten global security. This has three pillars: Support Afghan-led efforts to make progress towards a sustainable political settlement; Build sustainable and sufficiently capable Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) which can protect the population, resist the insurgency and deny international terrorists safe haven. Build a viable Afghan state, which can increasingly meet its population’s needs from its own resources.

There has been much progress over the last 11 years in Afghanistan and the UK played a key role in this: * 5.8 million children now go to school, 2.2 million of them girls. During the Taliban regime only about 1 million children attended school, almost none of them girls * Approximately 85% of the population can now access a health facility within 1 hours’ walk compared to just 9% in 2002 * More than one in three pregnant women (36%) receive antenatal care, more than twice as many as in 2003 * Revenue collection as a proportion of GDP has grown from less than 3% in 2003/4 to 11% of GDP, an all-time high, in 2010/11. Tax revenue in 2010/11 was around £1.65 billion, up 26% in the previous year.

Published 19 July 2012