After eight years of front line military operations involving tens of thousands of British Servicemen and women, the UK’s military headquarters in Helmand was disbanded yesterday.

In the latest stage of the ongoing drawdown of UK operations in Afghanistan, the functions of Headquarters Task Force Helmand have been subsumed into the wider US-led Regional Command (South West).

This milestone marks the end of the sixteenth Task Force Helmand operation for the British-led coalition Task Force, which has comprised soldiers from the Danish, Estonian, Tongan, Jordanian and Bosnian armed forces. However, UK forces will continue to provide support to the Afghan forces in Helmand – providing training, advice and assistance until the conclusion of UK combat operations later this year.

Secretary of State for Defence, Philip Hammond MP, said:

“At this important point in the final year of the UK’s lengthy and crucially important combat mission, it is only right to reflect on the significant achievements – and sacrifices – of the past eight years.

“The Servicemen and women who have fought under the command of Task Force Helmand have protected the security of the UK and its people; prevented international terrorists from using Afghanistan as a base; and created the conditions for a brighter, more secure and more stable future for the country.

“However, the job is not over yet and UK troops will continue to operate in often risky and challenging conditions in Helmand supporting the Afghan forces and continuing the redeployment effort, until UK combat operations are concluded later this year.”

Having relocated from Lashkar Gah to Camp Bastion last year as part of the planned drawdown of British Forces in Afghanistan, the control of Task Force Helmand’s area of operations has now been handed over completely.

Although Task Force Helmand has disbanded, British troops will remain in Camp Bastion throughout 2014, either working in the coalition force under Regional Command (South West) or supporting the redeployment of equipment back to the UK under Joint Force Support (Afghanistan), the UK’s logistical headquarters. But their numbers will continue to diminish as the operation draws to a close and the Afghan National Security Forces prepare to stand alone without ISAF support.

At the ceremony to mark the end of Task Force Helmand, its final Commander, Brigadier James Woodham, said:

“This is a significant moment in the drawdown of British Forces in Afghanistan. It has been an honour to serve as the last Commander of Task Force Helmand and command the soldiers of 7th Armoured Brigade, The Desert Rats, on operations. The Task Force has achieved so much since 2006 and I pay homage to all of those who have served under the Task Force. We are leaving Helmand in a better place and the Afghan National Security Forces are well set to continue to deliver security to the region.”

The number of British personnel in Helmand has reduced from a peak of more than 10,000 to its current level as the Afghan National Security Forces have taken the lead in security across the country. The role for the Task Force has changed from combat operations to advising the Afghan National Security Forces.

Speaking alongside Commander Task Force Helmand was the Deputy Commander Regional Command (South West), Brigadier Robert Thomson, who will be the senior British Officer in Regional Command (South West). He said:

“Having served in the Province back in 2009, I have witnessed the progress delivered here by British forces under Task Force Helmand. In Regional Command (South West) we will continue that great work, supporting the Afghan National Security Forces and the people of Helmand, until the end of 2014 to see out the mission here alongside our US comrades. ”

Also speaking at the event was Commander Regional Command (South West), Brigadier General Daniel Yoo, United States Marine Corps, who has overall command for the Region, who said:

“The soldiers and officers of Task Force Helmand can be proud of all they have achieved in supporting the mission here in Afghanistan alongside their ISAF counterparts. They have played a vital role in securing the Helmand region and helping to develop a well-trained and effective Afghan Security Force.”

Since the operation began, the Ministry of Defence has approved through the UOR process over £5.8 billion of battle winning equipment to meet emerging threats in Afghanistan. So far more than 1,578 vehicles and items of major equipment have been redeployed from the front line and are now being made ready for future contingency operations.

The MOD has announced today it has awarded a contract that is set to be worth up to £20 million over the next two years to Coventry based Morgan Advanced Materials, for maintenance and servicing of our Cougar fleet of vehicles as they come back from Afghanistan and are retained in service for troops to benefit from their capability for years to come.