After almost 13 years of British military operations there’s no doubting Afghanistan is a different place.
In fact there have been waves of change.
The swift ousting of the Taliban in 2001 was followed by several years of relative peace. However, the Taliban resurgence in the middle of the decade marked the start of a long hard fight. The hardline islamists who’d given terrorists a haven to plan the 9/11 attacks were trying to get back control.
Britain and America’s troop surge in 2010 saw a rolling stalemate broken. With the Taliban being driven out of Helmand’s populated areas and pushed into the desert security for ordinary Afghans started to improve again.
The UK’s focus began to shift to securing that change in the long term. In 2010 Afghanistan’s security forces were doing little of the fighting in Helmand and many British soldiers had real concerns about their ability.
A concentrated training programme has tackled not only military tactics but skills like literacy. The ranks have swelled by around a third. The Afghan forces passed their biggest test yet in April with a largely successful and safe first round to the Presidential election.
But violence has not disappeared, particularly in Helmand. Just three districts account for 15% of all enemy initiated attacks. Helmand’s dubious honour as the centre of the world’s opium trade is perhaps one reason why violence remains a part of life for many ordinary people.
Britain has pledged to keep standing by Afghanistan even once combat troops have left. The Afghan National Officer Acadamy at Qarga, modelled on Sandhurst, is designed to keep British military leadership skills flowing through Afghanistan's forces for decades to come.
Around 180 British trainers and support troops are due to stay on there next year. That's providing the new Afghan president signs a security agreement with the west.
The United States will leave almost 10,000. The government says the reason for having troops in Afghanistan has always been protecting Britain’s security.
A job they say that’s been done.
They promise lessons can and will be learned.
Perhaps one lesson from previous conflicts is that history will judge the true legacy.