CAMP LEATHERNECK, Afghanistan - The last U.S. Marines unit and final British combat troops in Afghanistan officially ended their operations on Sunday as they packed up to leave the country and transferred a massive military base to the Afghan military. The American and British flags were lowered and folded up for the final time at the regional headquarters of the international military, 13 years after the toppling of the Taliban’s radical Islamist regime launched America's longest war.
The timing of the troops’ withdrawal from the base in the strategic province of Helmand was not released for security reasons. Camp Leatherneck is the largest U.S. base to be handed over to Afghan control as the coalition ends its combat mission at the end of the year, leaving most of the fight against a resilient Taliban insurgency to Afghan army and police.
British forces transferred the adjacent Camp Bastion at the same time. Once a teeming compound of some 40,000 personnel, the coalition's Regional Command (Southwest) combined base on Sunday resembled a dust-swept, well-fortified ghost town. Concrete blast walls and razor wire were left guarding empty sand lots and barracks.
The most recent official estimate of combined international troops at the base was 4,500 – and those last few will be gone soon, officials said. The Marine Expeditionary Brigade-Afghanistan is the last U.S. Marine unit in the country, and the British forces at Bastion will be the last U.K troops to go home. "The guys right now are mostly looking forward to getting home," said Marine Lt. John Pratson, 24, of Leonardtown, Maryland, as his team played touch football and lifted weights outdoors on the eve of the handover ceremony. "It’s been a long hot summer," he said.