Silence falls on Kabul

There is one brief moment every week when the hubbub of the busy ISAF headquarters in Kabul comes to a standstill allowing Afghan and ISAF personnel a chance to reflect and remember their fallen colleagues.

The main headquarters camp in Kabul – HQ ISAF – is a hub of constant activity. You will struggle to find a time of day or night when food isn’t available in at least one of the dining halls, a crucial briefing is going on or a close protection team isn’t preparing a vehicle for a road move.

There is one brief moment every week though when the camp comes to a complete standstill. A moment of peace descends on the brain of the Afghanistan campaign. The hulking armoured vehicles grind to a halt, the report- typing stops, the video-conferences with Brussels, Mons, the Pentagon and Whitehall freeze, and the relentless Marine instructor in the gym goes quiet.

Just a few minutes. But ones steeped in meaning and respect. From the most junior clerk to the 4-star General commanding the campaign; civilian representatives, contracted security operators and a jumble of multi-coloured berets from across the coalition nations as well as civilian and military representatives from our host nation, all gather on a patch of grass in front of ISAF and Afghan flags.

The padre begins proceedings with a poem of remembrance or sacrifice. Then one by one, representatives step forward to read out the names of their countrymen who that week, have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country and Afghanistan’s future.

This week it was the turn of the Australians and Italians, both mourning one of their own. The Americans had lost two servicemen. Corporal Channing Day and Corporal David O’Connor were honoured for the British contingent. No matter how tragic the losses of coalition soldiers or how moving the reading of their names, it is the Afghan contribution which reminds us of just what the host nation is sacrificing in pursuit of a peaceful and prosperous future. When the Afghan officer steps forward, there are too many fallen Afghans to name them individually. This week alone sixty-six members of the Afghan Security Forces died.

A moment of silence and a prayer. Then it’s back to work for everyone – there is a campaign to tackle, a transition to secure and a future to plan. And getting on with the job at hand is the best possible way to remember our fallen and make sure not one of those deaths was in vain.

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