King Felipe VI presides over a ceremony to recognize the personnel of all the contingents accompanied by the President of the Government and the Minister of Defense

The last Spanish troops deployed in Afghanistan arrive home

PHOTO/MINISTERIO DE DEFENSA - El rey Felipe VI, el presidente del Gobierno, Pedro Sánchez, y la ministra de Defensa, Margarita Robles, recibieron al último contingente español en Afganistán, con el que España pone fin a casi 20 años de misiones.

King Felipe VI, the President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez, and the Minister of Defense, Margarita Robles, received the last Spanish contingent in Afghanistan, with which Spain puts an end to almost 20 years of missions.

The 24 soldiers and two local interpreters of the Resolute Support mission, the last Spanish troops in Afghanistan, landed on Thursday afternoon at the Torrejón Air Base, where their families were waiting for them and where an act of recognition to the personnel participating in missions in Afghanistan was held.

Robles had a few words for all the men and women of the Armed Forces who, with their dedication, generosity and sacrifice have signed Spain's commitment to peace and international security and, a special memory to the 102 who "died giving the best of themselves, their young lives, to give peace and freedom to others". She also apologized "wholeheartedly if any of their relatives at any time have not felt accompanied or supported", as reflected in a press release from the Ministry of Defense of Spain.

"I want to publicly express the commitment of the whole of Spain, which owes a debt of gratitude to those of you who have returned, to those of you who are here, to those who have not returned, to their families," Robles said. "You have the commitment of all of us that we will make sure that throughout history the sacrifice you have made for peace, freedom and security is never forgotten," said the head of the Department.

"When you suffer in Afghanistan, we suffer in Spain. The Armed Forces, the Police, the Civil Guard and the National Intelligence Center are well aware of that," said Robles.

The Chief of Defense Staff, Admiral General Teodoro López Calderón, also attended the tribute, accompanied by numerous civilian and military authorities, such as the Director of the CNI, Paz Esteban; the Undersecretary of Defense, Amparo Valcarce; and the Chiefs of Staff of the Army, Navy and Air Force: General Francisco Varela, Admiral General Antonio Martorell, and Air Force General Javier Salto, respectively; as well as the General Directors of the National Police and the Civil Guard.

Recepción del rey Felipe VI en el regreso de tropas españolas de Afganistán
Two decades, three missions

Enduring Freedom, ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) and Resolute Support, the last two under NATO command, are the three missions in which Spain has participated.

A first contingent of 350 military personnel deployed for the first time in January 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and "paved the way for the more than 27,100 men and women who have contributed to peace and security on Afghan soil," said the commander of the Special Operations Command (CSOC), Lieutenant general Francisco Braco, in his account of the missions.

"We went to Afghanistan together, we have been there together, and together we came back," he said referring to the joint withdrawal of NATO member nations decided last April 14.

In the ISAF mission, between 2002 and 2014, the Armed Forces contributed with different capabilities and the intervention of the two Armies and the Navy with the task of assisting the Afghan interim government in maintaining security.

Recepción del rey Felipe VI en el regreso de tropas españolas de Afganistán

The Army took charge, among other capabilities, of the Badghis Provincial Reconstruction Team, with its capital in Qala-e-Naw, made up of military and civilian personnel, through the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID).

The Navy deployed, together with the Armies, Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP) and Mentoring and Liaison Teams (OMLT), while the Air Force assumed command of the Herat Forward Air Base, in addition to taking charge of the Deployment Support Medical Unit.

Also, the Civil Guard, through different contingents, "contributed to improve and normalize the functioning of the Afghan police," Braco noted.

In 2015, the new NATO Resolute Support mission focused on training, advising, and mentoring in support of Afghan security institutions and their Security and Defense Forces.

In 2018, Spain adapted its contribution to this mission with the deployment of a Special Operations Force, a unit that has been redeployed.

"Once again the Armed Forces have lived up to what has been demanded of them," said CSOC, which has also recalled the efforts of others, such as the CNI, the National Police Corps, Non-Governmental Organizations, the AECID and Spanish companies and foundations.

"This is the finishing touch to the effort made by thousands of our military and civilians, contributing with tenacity and pride in the fight against terrorism and helping a society that needed it," he stressed.

Recepción del rey Felipe VI en el regreso de tropas españolas de Afganistán
Unforgettable effort

Among the examples of the work of the Spanish military in Afghanistan are the more than 28,000 long patrols along the Lithium Route, and the approximately 1,400 missions of deactivation of explosives.

The Armed Forces have also provided operability and security to the main airport in Herat and have adapted basic infrastructures to bring electricity and water to homes.

Finally, the Spanish missions have had that humanitarian and empathetic imprint with the most vulnerable, in orphanages and schools in Qala-e-Naw, witnessing the integration of children in their classrooms.