Later than some of us wanted, today marks the end of Nato responsibility for the security forces and combat roles in Afghanistan. It is a fitting day to thank our troops for all their brave and loyal service, and to wish the Afghans well in assuming full responsibiltiy for the security of their own country.
We still have troops at risk. They have to remain vigilant at base. Let us hope they are not called on to undertake more combat roles by the Afghans, as that would imply continuing high levels of violence and remaining issues with the training of the Afghan troops.
It also means we can plan a different kind of defence force. Freed of combat duties in Afghanistan, and staying out of other Middle Eastern wars changes the role of the military. It will mean for the first time in many years the British army is not preoccupied by a major conflict or heavily involved in difficult policing in divided communities resorting to violence. It also stops a major drain on the budget.
The new military that emerges from the Defence Review and budget reductions needs to have a well armed expeditionary capability in case of future need and trouble. It also needs to be modelled around its prime function, defending the UK from any possible attack. This means proficiency in cyberspace as well as by land ,sea and air. It also means having the naval and air capacity to help police the world’s sea lanes and trade routes. It certainly means retaining a credible nuclear deterrent. It is a different role, but still a vital one.