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Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has visited Afghanistan to mark the latest milestone in the drawdown of UK forces.
Mr Hammond was in the country to witness the closure of Observation Post Sterga, the last remaining forward base to be used by UK troops. The closure of Sterga means that the only UK troops remaining in Helmand are at Camp Bastion and locations in Kandahar and Kabul.
During the visit, which was conducted as closure work continued, Mr Hammond spoke to soldiers from 4th Battalion The Royal Regiment of Scotland (4 SCOTS) who had been living and working at Sterga.
Mr Hammond said:
The closure of our last base outside Camp Bastion is another important step towards ending combat operations in Afghanistan. It is also an opportunity to reflect on the mission and the hard work and sacrifice of British forces.
Their efforts have helped build credible Afghan National Security Forces and supported the emergence of a democratic Afghan state.
Sterga opened in August 2013 to enable UK personnel to observe a large and strategically important area of central Helmand. Troops based there provided vital assistance covering UK and US base closures and gave Afghan and coalition personnel a fuller understanding of insurgent activity.
The majority of the personnel based at Sterga prior to its closure came from 4 SCOTS, with specialist capabilities provided by other units such as 5 Regiment Royal Artillery, 32 Regiment Royal Artillery, 3rd Regiment Royal Horse Artillery and 14 Signal Regiment.
At its peak, the base was home to 180 people, although by its closure this had reduced to around 90 personnel.
Providing security for the redeployment was the UK-led manoeuvre battle group. The commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel James Roddis, said:
Providing a secure environment for the redeployment of a base is vital to ensure the safety and protection of our personnel and equipment.
The soldiers of the cross-coalition multi-cap-badged manoeuvre battle group, led by 4 SCOTS, have once again shown their ability and competence in making sure the personnel and equipment from Sterga could return safely back to Camp Bastion.
Alongside our coalition partners we also oversaw and provided security for the closure of Laskhar Gah Durai and Forward Operating Base Price in March earlier this year.
As the last Scottish infantry battalion in Afghanistan it has been a challenging and rewarding job being part of the drawdown of British bases in Helmand and the handover of lead security responsibilities to the Afghan security forces.
More than 100 shipping (or ISO) containers worth of equipment had to be removed from the base by air and road, with both UK and US forces involved in aviation, logistics and security.
During his visit to Afghanistan the Defence Secretary also met with Major General Sayed Malouk, commander of 215 Corps of the Afghan National Army (ANA) based in Camp Shorabak. The pair discussed the development of the ANA and Major General Malouk updated Mr Hammond on their training.
Whilst at Shorabak the Defence Secretary spoke to a number of British medics engaged in developing the ANA’s medical capabilities.
Captain David Watts, medical advisor in the 3rd Battalion The Mercian Regiment brigade advisory team, said:
The ANA have made significant steps over the last 9 months, specifically with the development and delivery of the en route care course which has reduced mortality rates.
They now have a growing paramedic capability to perform in-transit care from point of wounding to the hospital. I have found it a privilege to work alongside my ANA medical counterparts as a medical advisor.
The closure of Sterga means that the UK presence in Helmand is now centralised in the main operating base of Camp Bastion which is due to close at the end of the year as the British combat mission concludes.