I spent a couple of weeks based out of Bastion in October 2011. Bastion was at its height then, and it was strange to see so much ongoing investment in a military base that was already marked for closure. Bastion had a unique atmosphere, a strange oasis in a conflict zone and yet tainted by tragedy each day—it was never quite up, never quite down.
There was an abstractive quality about the place: dark machinery in an empty desert, instruments of war set against bucolic sunsets, sweeping, fleeting sandstorms fading to nothing. It was a curious canvas. When I could (and when time and permissions allowed) I would photograph with this sense of scale and absurdity in mind.
454 British Forces personnel (including Ministry of Defence civilians) died from hostile actions during the Afghan conflict. Many of those numbers will have passed through Bastion.
Operation Herrick (the name for the UK’s military operation in Afghanistan, but particularly the British engagement in the Helmand province) ended in October 2014. What remained of the now deconstructed facility was handed over to the Afghan National Army. Within days, the Taliban had attacked and partially taken what had been the headquarters of the British operations in Afghanistan for nearly a decade.
It is a mostly un-reported tragedy that the lands that claimed the lives of so many British service personnel are already back in the control of the Taliban.
There was a memorial wall in Bastion, in memory of all those who perished, which read:
“When you go home tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow we gave our today.”