The newspaper headlines: The end of the 'long war'

Soldiers' tented accommodation is left deserted in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan, after British troops handed Camp Bastion over to Afghan forces Image copyright PA
Image caption Soldiers' tented accommodation is left deserted in Camp Bastion

The formal ending of Britain's 13 years of combat operations in Afghanistan is marked by Monday's press with pictures, tributes, analysis and some measure of soul-searching.

"The soldiers snapped to attention and a union flag was lowered towards the parched desert sand. With this brief ceremony, Britain's 13-year war in Afghanistan came to an end yesterday," writes Holly Watt, the Daily Telegraph's woman in Camp Bastion, as the UK handed the baton on in its war against the Taliban to local Afghan forces.

The long campaign has dominated many young soldiers' military careers, writes Watt.

One 23-year-old tells her, "This is all I have known since I have been in the Army. It is going to be quite weird adjusting to not having to prepare for it every two years."

The British commander at Bastion, Brig Robert Thomson, thoughtfully notes the Western intervention in Afghanistan has gone only part-way in checking the extremist threat.

"This is a country that is a work in progress rather than a country that has been completed," he tells the Telegraph.

The Times says Afghan police and soldiers continue to be killed by Taliban insurgents at the rate of 11 every day, and opium production - a crop that Tony Blair sough to eradicate from the country, to ease Britain's heroin problem - is at an all-time high.

The paper notes how the campaign evolved from early successes to a series of brutal attacks on British forces, at that time scattered in small bases throughout southern Afghanistan.

"It was only the courage of the men and women on the ground that prevented defeat," the paper says.

"The extraordinary examples of resistance during those first few months are the stuff of folklore. At Nawzad, 40 Gurkhas held off 28 assaults in two weeks; at Sangin, 100 paratroopers fought off 44 attacks in 25 days; at Kajaki, eight British soldiers and two dozen Afghans repelled 30 attacks in 10 days."

The development of the vast Anglo-American Camp Bastion/Leatherneck ("the size of Reading") gave the Nato forces a safer base within Helmand province.

But the paper notes: "Britain's legacy on the stabilisation front is also questionable even after the billions of pounds that have been pumped into reconstruction projects.

"As of today, nearly a third of Helmand's 382 schools are closed because of insecurity or a shortage of teachers; Taliban courts are still preferred; and malnutrition and access to healthcare are still problems in all but the province's biggest cities."

Image copyright EPA
Image caption Afghanistan's own forces will now face the Taliban alone

The Sun is largely positive on the legacy the UK leaves. It interviews four people, two soldiers, a widow whose husband died in the campaign and a defence writer to conclude, "we did the right thing".

Lord Prescott, a member of the government that first committed troops to Afghanistan, is less sure.

Writing in the Daily Mirror he says: "The West has always made a mess of interventionism in the Middle East. Shock and awe attacks turn into protracted ground campaigns.

"I respect the thousands of gallant men and women who went to Afghanistan and Iraq to save lives and restore peace. But they teach us that being the world's policeman carries a heavy price and does not justify the heavy loss of lives."

It is a sentiment echoed in the pages of the Daily Telegraph by Patricia Quinlan, whose son Capt James Philippson died in Helmand province in 2006.

"The improvements will soon be swallowed up. It is already happening, as in Iraq. Even if some have benefited, it was not worth my son's life," she says.


Poignant

But what do the newspapers' opinion columns make of the ending of Britain's combat role in southern Afghanistan?

The Daily Express salutes the UK's record in Afghanistan. It says the use of the country as a safe haven for al-Qaeda terrorism was a situation the West could not allow to continue.

"We had to take action to show the world that countries which harbour terrorists will never be tolerated on the international stage.

Image copyright EPA

"And so as most of our servicemen and women who have been involved in the conflict leave Afghanistan they should rejoice in their achievements. They were fighting for a just cause and they make the rest of us proud."

The Times editorial says Britain, Afghanistan and the nature of warfare have moved on since the conflict began in 2001: "This was a war that had outlasted public support and few will mourn its end. Yet it would be not only a betrayal of those who died, but also fundamentally dishonest to deny that it was also a war we were right to begin."

The Sun questions the wisdom of withdrawing with an undefeated enemy still on the battlefield.

"When we quit Iraq with the job half-done because we'd had enough, we opened the door to Islamic State, who make the Taliban look like peace-loving hippies.

"Now we are doing the same thing in Afghanistan. This is no time for celebrating," it reckons.

The Daily Mirror says, "Many have rightly questioned the terrible sacrifice of 453 British lives - with thousands more maimed - in a conflict that has cost £37bn.

"British politicians, especially Tony Blair, still have much to answer for. The military followed orders, and questions must still be asked of those who sent them to war with poor equipment."

The Daily Mail takes a similar tack, saying: "Most poignant of all, the memorial wall at Camp Bastion - commemorating all the British dead - has been dismantled and shipped home.

"Though the Ministry of Defence denies it, this is surely because it would soon be desecrated or destroyed.

"In other words, as we leave Afghanistan - knowing it may soon return to the same chaos in which we found it - there will be not a trace left behind of the brave British soldiers who died there.

"Could there be a more potent symbol of wasted sacrifice?"


'Creaking at the seams'

Defence Secretary Michael Fallon's words in a TV interview that some British towns had been "swamped" with immigrants and felt "under siege" is the day's big domestic political story.

The Guardian says Mr Fallon's comments - which were quickly "clarified" by No 10's press machine - "leave the Tories in disarray".

The paper quotes Lib Dem Ed Davey, who says his cabinet colleague's remarks were "more based on the Conservative concerns of the UKIP threat in the Rochester by-election" than facts.

It also quotes a UKIP spokesman who criticises Mr Fallon's "intemperate language".

Image caption Michael Fallon became defence secretary in July

"Can you imagine what would have been said if we had said that?" said Steven Woolfe.

But Mr Fallon also has his defenders.

Tory MP Philip Davies tells the Daily Telegraph, "What he said was what millions of people up and down the country think. The country has been crying out for a member of the cabinet who will say these things."

The Daily Mail notes Mr Fallon's use of the word "swamped" echoed a statement by then-opposition leader Margaret Thatcher in 1978. She had said people felt "swamped" by migrants from Pakistan and the new Commonwealth countries.

Its editorial backs Mr Davies's view. The paper writes: "Blunt and contentious as his language may have been, isn't Mr Fallon speaking a glaringly obvious truth?

"Whole communities really do feel they're being swamped. Their schools are massively oversubscribed, jobs are becoming harder and harder to find, their cultural landscape is changing irreversibly without their consent and public services are creaking at the seams."

The Times links the story to a poll - commissioned by the Countryside Alliance - that suggests only 22% of voters in the Conservative's traditional heartlands are considering voting for the party, with 20% opting for Labour and 17% choosing UKIP.

The pressure group says rural voters felt "taken for granted" by David Cameron with voters citing transport, immigration and the EU as their top concerns.


'Ostracised'

Three separate stories in three newspapers all highlight complaints over the period of time people are held on bail on charges that are later dropped.

The Times carries the tale of former Parachute Regiment Maj Milos Stankovic, who received an MBE for his work for the UN military force during the Bosnian conflict.

The Times reports that Maj Stankovic was arrested in 1997 on suspicion of having breached the Official Secrets Act and was covertly investigated by MI5, then overtly by the MoD Police for two years without charges being brought.

He says his 18 months of "twisting in the wind" on police bail "was like being put into a psychological prison where the jail term was indeterminate".

Despite being cleared of any wrongdoing, Maj Stankovic says his professional life was "destroyed" and he was "ostracised" by his former colleagues.

"Whether it is my case or whether it is entertainers being arrested under Yewtree, the fact is the general public will always labour under the assumption that you don't get arrested unless there's something in it," he tells the paper.

The case reported in the Independent is even more curious.

It reports on bus driver Andrew Holland who spent six months on bail charged with possessing extreme pornography.

The paper notes Mr Holland, 51, "suffered a heart attack, received hate mail and was targeted by vigilantes after being charged" and was denied contact with his young daughter for more than a year.

Eventually prosecutors realised that the joke video he was sent on email by a friend did not show bestiality, but a woman with a man dressed as a tiger.

The "tiger" is heard to speak in the clip, which was found when police visited Mr Holland's home on an unrelated matter.

The paper says "Mr Holland's legal team has now written to the director of public prosecutions to seek a change in the law to "prevent 'harmless but crude jokes' from ending in prosecution".

The Daily Mail's story concerns 75-year-old Paul Griffith who spent more than six months on bail charged with "racially or religiously aggravated harassment, alarm or distress".

Mr Griffith was arrested as he took off his shoes to go through a scanner at Stansted airport and joked "I am not Muslim am I?" He was reported by a security guard who told police he was upset by the language.

The case against the retired hairdresser was dropped just 24 hours before it was due to go to court.

"I have never fallen foul of the law before and the whole affair has been a complete waste of police time, the court's time, my time as well as taxpayers' money," he tells the Mail.


Brain scans

If you're becoming aware that age is sapping your powers of memory, relax and sit back with a cup of hot cocoa.

That advice is not complacency, but has sound scientific backing, the Daily Express says.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Manufacturing usually strips the cocoa bean of most of its flavanols

The paper leads with the news that the cocoa bean's natural flavanols can help reverse memory loss.

A clinical trial in New York found that after three months of drinking the cocoa - which was specially made for the scientists by the confectionery group Mars - one 60-year-old had the memory powers of a typical person half his age.

The study only looked at the effects on age-related memory loss rather than dementia conditions.

Alzheimer's UK tells the paper it finds the study interesting, but it wants larger trials to find if cocoa could help prevent or delay dementia.

Its spokesman notes "the supplement used in this study was specially formulated from cocoa beans, so people shouldn't take this as a sign to stock up on chocolate bars".

The Independent reports that brain scans found the study volunteers had more blood flowing to the part of the brain which generates fresh cells, after drinking the high-flavanol cocoa.

A neuropsychologist from London's Goldsmiths College tells the paper: "Given a globally ageing population, by isolating a particular area of the brain that is weakening in functioning as we grow older, and demonstrating that a non-pharmacological intervention can improve learning of new information, the authors have made a significant contribution to helping us improve our cognitive health."

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