Senior military figures including Lord West, a former first sea lord, warn against against the dangers of overlooking troops still fighting in Afghanistan.
In a poignant image, the grieving face of Sharon Brynin is seen reflected as she reaches out to the coffin of her son, L/Cpl James Brynin, as his body is repatriated at RAF Brize Norton, from Afghanistan.
The 22-year-old was shot after going out on patrol in the country’s Helmand Province to deal with a threat to local civilians and officials.
His funeral was held in Pulborough, West Sussex, last week, on the same day that the latest British military death in Afghanistan occurred, with the killing of WO2 Ian Michael Fisher.
The father-of-two, 42, from Barking, Essex, died in a suicide attack during an operation to disrupt insurgents, again in Helmand.
Their deaths took the total number of UK service personnel killed in the country since the war began to 446, but as the casualties from the conflict continue, there are concerns it is fading from public consciousness.
On Saturday night, as a nation prepared to mourn its war dead on Remembrance Sunday – an occasion often associated with the fallen from the two world wars – senior military figures warned against the dangers of overlooking those lost in the ongoing war in Afghanistan.
They said the sacrifice of British troops still deployed on the front line should be remembered as much as those who served in earlier conflicts.
Lord West, a former first sea lord and security minister, said: “We still have around 5,000 men and women who are in what is effectively a combat zone. Because people are talking of the withdrawal, I do think the nation’s consciousness of that has started to fade a bit.
“A lot of people almost think we have gone already. It’s important that people realise that we still have men and women at risk doing their duty for the nation and we mustn’t let that slip away from people’s minds.”
Col Richard Kemp, a former commander of British forces in Afghanistan, said: “On Remembrance Sunday our glorious dead must be uppermost in our minds. But we should also think, today and every day, of our fighting troops who remain in Afghanistan, risking everything to protect us.
“With large-scale British military engagement in Afghanistan ending next year, and Afghan forces now bearing the brunt of operational activity, there is a tendency to forget about these brave men and women.
“Few things drain morale more than believing that you are part of a forgotten Army. That is why it is so important to continue to support our troops right up to the end.”
Adrian Weale, a spokesman for the British Armed Forces Federation, said: “It should not become a forgotten conflict. The threat remains pretty severe for personnel who are out there at the moment. Clearly, it is important we remember that people are still sacrificing themselves and taking risks on our behalf.”
There were also warnings that, as well as those killed, there should be a focus on the growing number of servicemen returning from combat with both physical and mental injuries.
Commodore Andrew Cameron, the chief executive of Combat Stress, a mental health charity for veterans, said: “Will it drop out of public consciousness once the headlines stop being so lurid for Afghanistan? Sadly, I think it will.
“For those who do get post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression after the event, it is very, very significant for them and is more hard-bitten very often than PTSD that many people in the community get, because these are multiple events of trauma that are really quite nasty and not properly recognised at the time.”
“Gen Sir Nick Houghton, the Chief of the Defence Staff, said we have to remember that we are coming out of the longest period of intensive warfare that the UK has been involved in over 200 years. The legacy of that is going to be with us for quite a long time.”
Jonathan Mervis, whose son Lt Paul Mervis of 2nd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed in Helmand in 2009, said: “We are obviously still immensely proud of our son, what he did and of the Armed Forces. To us, to enlist and fight for your country is the ultimate great thing to do.
“You sign up if you believe in the country, the sovereign and the way of life and the debate about the pros and cons and the success or failure, as it is seen in contemporary times, really becomes slightly irrelevant.
“The history of the nation is one where there have been conflicts all the way through and we are where we are because people have done what they have done, irrespective what short-term judgments have been at the time.
“That’s what really makes us immensely proud of our son, that he was prepared to do that.”
The families of the two men most recently killed have paid tribute to them. L/Cpl Brynin’s parents, Efrem and Sharon, his sister Yasmin and girlfriend Olivia, said he had the “heart of a lion”.
WO2 Fisher’s wife, Emma – the mother of his sons, James, seven, and William, five – said: “Ian will always be the centre of my life. He will be remembered as a doting father, loving husband and a true professional soldier.”
Similar feelings of loss were also in the minds of those attending a remembrance service held on Saturday at the Cenotaph, central London, by the War Widows’ Association.
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary – who is expected to visit troops in Afghanistan over the weekend – added to calls for remembrance of the Afghan war dead.
“First of all the message is one of Remembrance for those who have given their lives in Afghanistan and our thoughts are with the families and friends who obviously will be reflecting at this time of year on the loss that they have sustained.”
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