At the beginning of 2014, about 38,000 Americans were still deployed in Afghanistan. That number is set to plunge in the next few months as US and British soldiers leave the site of America’s long conflict.
But shipping the personnel, hardware, and vehicles necessary to wage war out of a landlocked country is a highly complex undertaking.
Thomson Reuters photographer Omar Sobhani was at the Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak complex — the massive base in Helmand province shared until now by the British, US and Afghan militaries — to see coalition soldiers wind down a 13-year-long military mission.
The last US combat personnel pulled out of Helmand this week, leaving responsibility for one of the country’s most fractious regions in the hands of the Afghan government.
A ceremony on Sunday marked the transfer of Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak’s control to the Afghan Armed Forces. The US, British, and NATO flags were lowered for the last time while Afghanistan’s was left to fly.
Much of the US-led coalition’s intervention to oust the Taliban in 2001 — and its ensuing attempt to build a functioning state — will be judged on how well Afghanistan’s own forces can fare with only nominal support from western partners, once the vast majority of coalition troops have left.
US Marines rest in their combat fatigues as they prepare for departure.
Coalition troops have been scaling back their military role in recent years, leaving more and more responsibilities to the Afghans who will inherit the base.
At its peak, the Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak complex accommodated 28,000 personnel, according to the British government.
“Getting equipment out of a landlocked country is difficult and expensive,” Col. Doug Patterson, who heads logistics at Camp Leatherneck told CBS News. “We have to fly or drive everything out of here.” Here, US Marines sit on board a helicopter at Kandahar air base, east of Helmand province.
Below, British soldiers arrive at Kandahar air base. The British government reports that 3,400 vehicles and 50 aircraft have been brought back to the UK over the course of the current drawdown.
The Helmand withdrawal has been an intense undertaking, with one Marine captain telling the Wall Street Journal that he managed only 4 hours of sleep over the last 4 days of preparation for a final pullout. Here, a US Marine takes advantage of some rare down time before departure.
Afghanistan’s Helmand province is one of the country’s most hotly contested areas. More than 940 coalition troops have been killed in the conflict in Helmand, including 360 Marines.
US Marines file into a plane. The camp’s runway is over two miles long and has been handed off to the Afghan Civil Aviation Authority. Bastion-Leatherneck-Shorabak once handled over 600 aircraft movements a day. Now, it will be a big part of the Afghan government’s efforts to pacify the country after the coalition operation ends. Right now, there’s no telling if they will be successful or not.
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