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United Kingdom ends Afgan combat operations

LONDON - Britain has ended combat operations in the Helmand province in Afghanistan, defense officials said Sunday.

U.K. troops have witnessed the lowering of the Union flag for the last time at the Camp Bastion complex in Helmand, which they shared with U.S. Marines, who also folded up operations in Afghanistan in a ceremony at Camp Leatherneck on Sunday.

Every single combat Marine and British troop will soon board planes to head home - the exact date has been withheld for security reasons, reports CBS News' Erin Lyall. It's a milestone in Helmand, the deadliest province for coalition forces throughout the war, with more than 940 troops killed, including 360 Marines. Five have died this year.

U.S. and Afghan soldiers witnessed the British ceremony, which marked the end of operations for the Southwest Regional Command, a U.S. and U.K. coalition operating under NATO's International Security Assistance Force, British officials said.

Camp Bastion has been the center of U.K. operations in Afghanistan since 2006. The handover of the base to Afghan control ends an important chapter in the 13-year Afghan campaign, which started after the terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001.

UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the end of combat operations is being announced "with pride" and that Britain has helped give Afghanistan "the best possible chance of a stable future."

He said Britain's commitment to support Afghanistan will continue "through institutional development, the Afghan National Army Officer Academy, and development aid."

Brigadier Rob Thomson, senior U.K. officer in Helmand, said Afghan National Security Forces are "more than ready" to assume responsibility for security.

Britain suffered 453 fatalities during the campaign.

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