UK troops mark last Christmas in Afghanistan

The Band of the Royal Artillery and the Medical Choir provide entertainment at Camp Bastion

British troops have marked their final Christmas in Afghanistan ahead of next year's scheduled pullout.

It was a working day for many of the 5,200 service personnel, now mostly based in the southern part of Helmand province, but there were carol concerts and exchanges of presents.

A Christmas lunch was served at the UK headquarters in Camp Bastion and four smaller remote bases.

There was also extra time for phone calls home and prayer.

Some 447 British servicemen and women have lost their lives since operations began in 2001.

The most recent death took place on Monday when a soldier from the Royal Engineers was killed after coming under enemy fire while on operations east of Kabul.

8,400 mince pies

All UK combat operations are due to finish by the end of 2014, with responsibility transferred to Afghan forces.

Afghan security forces are already leading operations, with British troops working alongside them.

Prime Minister David Cameron told UK troops on a visit to Camp Bastion last week that their "mission had been accomplished".

He said they had restored a basic level of security to Afghanistan and prevented it from becoming again what he called "a haven for terror".

The 7th Armoured Brigade - the Desert Rats - which now command Britain's operation in Helmand - is ensuring that the troops still feel part of the Christmas celebrations, says BBC correspondent Karen Allen.

Troops from 3rd Regiment the Royal Artillery receive presents Troops from 3rd Regiment the Royal Artillery receive presents

At Camp Bastion and across the UK's area of operations, around 6,000 personnel enjoyed two tonnes of turkey, one and a quarter tonnes of gammon, half a tonne of Brussels sprouts and 8,400 mince pies.

There were also Midnight Mass services in tented chapels, a half marathon in which runners wore everything from Christmas cracker bodysuits to Santa hats and a visit from Father Christmas to distribute presents.

Brigadier James Woodham, the commander of Task Force Helmand, praised the focus and determination of the troops.

"The soldiers serving here this Christmas should be very proud of the work they are doing," he said.

"They are doing a fantastic job and when I speak to my Afghan counterparts, they are really thankful for the work, determination and investment that our soldiers have put in."

Senior Logistics Officer Major Luke Dance said: "We have an important job to do here but we try to make sure that as many people as possible get to sit down and have a traditional Christmas lunch.

"It's a good morale boost and the small details help to bring a little bit of home to Afghanistan."

Thousands of personnel on ships or around the globe in Cyprus, the Falklands Islands and Gibraltar were also able to enjoy a Christmas meal.

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