Camp Bastion is a place synonymous with the war in Afghanistan. At one time accommodating 28,000 people, the Camp is a beige city of tents larger than Reading. Although operational since 2006, now, in 2014, the British troops are moving out, and they’re taking their multi-million pound equipment with them.
From the empty canvas tents and spent ammunition to the heavily armored trucks (the Warthog, the Foxhound and the Mastiff to name but a few), leaving Camp Bastion was always going to be a mammoth removals job. Over 320 tonnes of ammunition have already been transported back to the UK, and a total of over £70m of other military equipment has already made its way home since January.
So how are they doing this? The main answer is simple: aircraft. Various military and freight transport planes are making the journey to and from Camp Bastion and the UK with all sorts of cargo. The planes are, however, just the final part of the removals process. Before cargo even enters the hold, there are a number of other steps to be taken first: armoured vehicles are taken through high powered chemical washes to ensure no insects or contamination are brought back to the UK, ammunition must be carefully checked and packed into boxes, and countless ISO containers are being filled with all sorts of other equipment. Chainsaws, diggers and forklift trucks are all being put through their paces to dismantle the Camp back into the dust expanse that it was only 8 years ago.
Each aircraft can carry up to 80 tonnes of equipment, worth around £160,000, with a flight cost of £20,000 – value for money for the military. Although, the question can be asked why we need to transport such equipment home at what is still a very high price? The British climate hardly has need of vehicles specially built for the desert, and as for state of the art weapons, the only national threat we appear to face is livestock and pigeons. Yet, Lieutenant Charles Ashington-Pickett explained that it is of the utmost importance to make sure that nothing goes astray: “We class this material as ACTO, meaning attractive to criminal and terrorist organisations,” he said. “This ranges from weapons and ammunition to radios, cameras and batteries.” The military aren’t removing absolutely everything, however. Spent and out of date ammunition is being melted down into scrap metal to be sold at £2000 a tonne.
Nearly four months into the move, which began at the start of the year, and progress is being made. The persistent sound of helicopter blades is now intermittent. The number of uniformed troops is also far less, and at the end of year this should have reduced again. A feat of removals expertise this may be, but a move very few would want to make again. The current hesitation to have any military involvement in the current Russian crisis corresponds very much to a British weariness of war.