UK in Afghanistan transformed country, says commander

british soldiers in afghanistan
Image caption All British combat operations are due to finish by the end of 2014

British sacrifices have transformed Afghanistan, an Army commander says.

Brig Rupert Jones said the drawdown of UK troops was progressing well and that the British people should be proud of what they have achieved in the country.

The UK had given the Afghans "an opportunity", he said, but warned it was "down to them" how they used it.

Brig Jones is commander of Task Force Helmand, whose HQ moved from Lashkar Gah to Camp Bastion in summer. He is due to hand over to Brig James Woodham.

'Lot of effort'

Almost 8,000 British troops are still serving in Afghanistan, around half of them based at the camp.

The number is scheduled to fall to 5,200 by the end of the year.

All UK combat operations are due to finish by the end of 2014, with responsibility transferred to Afghan forces.

Since the war began 12 years ago, 444 UK service personnel have lost their lives in the fight against the Taliban.

"I think the reality is we've spilled an awful lot of effort in this country over a considerable amount of time," the outgoing commander said.

"The British public are very proud of the courage and sacrifice of the British armed forces here, but actually they should be just as proud of the achievements.

"The reality is that we will be leaving Helmand a transformed province, indeed the whole of Afghanistan is transformed. We should be proud of that.

"We've given the Afghans an opportunity. How they use that opportunity is down to them, but there's no doubt they've been given an opportunity."

'Far superior'

The Afghans had "taken the lead" over this summer's fighting and had sustained some casualties, but had done a "genuinely impressive job", he said.

"There's no doubt the insurgents wanted to try and have a decisive effect this summer.

"The fact that they have not been able to is down to the Afghan performance."

He said Helmand province was still "a dangerous place", but said the casualties had not had a "decisive impact" on the police or army.

His comments were echoed by some of the members of 2 Scots, who spent their tour of more than six months training and mentoring the Afghan National Police at Lashkar Gah.

The local security forces were described by Warrant Officer William Garrick as "a lot better at what they do than we are".

"They may not have the capability in terms of the vehicles, the manpower etc.

"But in terms of common knowledge they are certainly far superior than we are."