British Army officer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Picture: PA).
Afghanistan

Op Toral: What Are British Troops Doing In Afghanistan?

In October 2014, British troops ended their combat role in Afghanistan, but what work are they continuing to do there?

British Army officer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Picture: PA).

The UK's military role in Afghanistan began in 2001, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

For many years the conflict has dominated front-page news.

At the height of the Afghan war, NATO had more than 130,000 troops from 50 nations in Afghanistan – the UK had 9,500 personnel.

More than 450 British personnel have died in the country since the start of operations in 2001.

Although the UK officially ended its combat role, under Operation Herrick, on 26 October 2014, troops remain in the country in non-combat capacities, known as Operation Toral.

'Guardian Angels'

Framed by the high mountains of the Hindu Kush sits Kabul, the Afghan capital.

It was once a key stop on the silk routes of Asia – a place full of gardens, bazaars and grand palaces, however, today it is regarded as one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

In the capital, there is a major NATO effort to try to provide some stability, with British forces playing a leading role. 

About 750 UK troops are deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Toral – Britain's contribution to the NATO Resolute Support mission.

Soldiers from the 2nd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment or 2 YORKS are currently deployed in Kabul Afghanistan in support of the NATO Resolute Support Mission
Soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment with their Foxhound vehicles in Kabul (Picture: MOD).

Troops have three main non-combat roles – the first is as 'Guardian Angels', which sees soldiers provide security and protection to NATO advisors and government officials.

British forces are tasked with transporting and accompanying government officials across the capital and beyond.

Soldiers drive dignitaries around in the Foxhound armoured vehicle, amid the threat of suicide bombers and improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

Aircraft from the Royal Air Force have also been used to transport officials.

The Taliban, Al-Qaeda and so-called Islamic State (IS) are just some of the threats which face British personnel and NATO allies in Kabul.

WATCH: In 2018 Forces News got special access to British personnel working in Kabul.

Emergency Response

British soldiers in Afghanistan have also formed part of NATO's Quick Reaction Force, which responds to emergency situations across the capital. 

Troops are held on standby 24/7 and are given five minutes' notice to react to an emergency, whether it is a fire or an attack.

In January 2018, soldiers from 2nd Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment were called into action.

They helped evacuate civilians from Kabul's Intercontinental Hotel after an attack by the Taliban.

Twenty-two people were killed during the 13-hour siege but 2 YORKS, alongside their Afghan, Australian and US counterparts, helped rescue 43 people.

British soldiers react to a call while on Quick Reaction Force, Afghanistan March 2018 CREDIT BFBS
British soldiers react to a call while on Quick Reaction Force.

'Sandhurst In The Sand'

In October 2020, operation control of the Afghan National Army Officer Academy (ANAOA) was handed over from NATO to the Afghan authorities.

UK military personnel had been helping train the next generation of Afghan Security Forces soldiers.

In 2013, Britain helped establish ANAOA in the western outskirts of Kabul.

Modelled on Sandhurst, and built with £75m of British money, everything on the curriculum had been influenced by UK military training.

ANAOA takes its core principles from the British Army and there are aspirations it will reach the same level of academes in India and Pakistan.

The long-term plan is for a gradual drawdown of NATO mentors by 2026.

It is hoped what they leave behind is a first-class training academy, able to produce leaders in the Afghan Army.

Sandhurst In The Sand Afghanistan March 2018 CREDIT BFBS
Afghan soldiers march on the parade square at 'Sandhurst In The Sand'.

What Next?

There have been signs of war coming to an end in Afghanistan, however, peace still seems a long way off.

At the beginning of September 2019, a US envoy to Afghanistan said a peace deal with the Taliban had been agreed "in principle". 

However, days later the deal was called off by President Donald Trump after a Taliban car bomb close to the NATO Resolute Support mission HQ killed an American soldier.

British soldiers were said to be at the scene retrieving what appeared to be the remains of a NATO vehicle.

At the time Mr Trump said the peace negotiations were "dead" but the following month, the US Defense Secretary visited Afghanistan to try to revive a deal.

Mark Esper said: "The aim is to still get a peace agreement at some point."

The previous deal would have seen more than 5,000 American troops withdrawn from Afghanistan over a five-month period.

US 48th Infantry Combat Team in Kapisa Province Afghanistan 160219 CREDIT US DEPT OF DEFENSE
The US still has around 13,000 troops in Afghanistan (Picture: US Department of Defense).

At the beginning of 2020, the chair of the Defence Select Committee in the UK said it was "fanciful" to believe British forces could stay in Afghanistan if the US withdraws. 

The majority of western combat forces, including the UK, left Afghanistan in 2014.

Meanwhile, the US has continued combat operations in the country as it looks to end its longest-ever war, although the number of American troops there was reduced to 2,500 last month.

NATO defence ministers have been meeting to discuss the future of Afghanistan, with the possibility of a decision regarding the US-Taliban peace deal, which says all international troops should leave by May.

Cover image: A British Army officer in Helmand Province, Afghanistan (Picture: PA).