The UK’s involvement in the war in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 was not just about fighting. From 2001, development work took place in an attempt to encourage a more stable future. UK government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and charities were active alongside the armed forces.

The political, economic and social development of Afghanistan was essential for the country to become secure and prosperous. Progress was made, with elections in 2014, investment in Afghan businesses, and improvements to infrastructure and key services. More schools and health clinics were built and improvements were made to the legal system.

But once a decision had been taken to withdraw international forces, British troops began the process of handing over security to Afghan forces. They formally ended their combat operations in Afghanistan in 2014. Britain and other coalition partners committed to continuing development work beyond the withdrawal, but the future of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan remained precarious.

In spring 2014, IWM staff visited Afghanistan as part of IWM’s Contemporary Conflicts Programme. The individual accounts presented here are just some of the interviews that featured in our exhibition War Story: Afghanistan 2014.

Robert Chatterton Dickson: “2014 is going to be the year of transition and there's really two elements to that. The first is there's going to be an election, so there will be a first democratic transfer of power in Afghanistan in its history. I mean, if you go back 40 years, there's been eight violent transfers of power in Afghanistan, and it really will be a huge move forward if for the first time in Afghan history, we have a a democratic transfer of power. And I think the, you know, the omens are pretty good for that. And, and then beyond that, there's a plan for the international community with the UK prominent amongst it to support Afghanistan, you know, to continue to support, you know, a new government. And then on top of that, there's, there's plans for, you know, development assistance, very large-scale development assistance to continue.” 

Politics and Governance

Robert Chatterton Dickson, Deputy Head of Mission at the British Embassy in Kabul, explains how 2014 is a key transitional phase in Afghanistan and how Britain and international partners are involved in this transition.

Helen Walton: “The ones that we've worked with here, and they're often kind of smaller organisations and some of them have been local NGO's and they have, they often have their capacity to work more closely with local people in communities and get to places that we can't get to, to deliver programmes.  

One of the NGO’s that we've been working with and has delivered the Department for International Development’s Vocational Training Project in Helmand. And that's been training, has trained 20,000 young people in basic skills such as tailoring, embroidery and motorbike repair, and all sorts of things and they have provided, there have been 20 different vocational training centres across 7 districts in the province, and the NGA has been delivering the training at their centres.” 

Role of NGOs

Helen Walton, Head of Socio-Economic Development for the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (HPRT), explains how NGOs work in Afghanistan and the sort of projects they deliver.

Chloe Mackenzie: “Is what you see in confession, confessions-based convictions is that's often where acts of torture will happen. So, what we really want them to do is move away from those types of practises, get them using modern practises of, you know, forensics, evidence, fingerprints and linking people to the scene, using witness statements, sketching out what's happened at a crime scene and really using that evidence to prosecute people rather than wait until they're in custody and trying to force them to make a confession. So, what we link on to that then is with the prosecutors here, it's the internal and external security prosecutors. We helped to give them training and development about then how to use the evidence which the police have hopefully collected to build strong cases against these individuals.” 

Law and Crime

Chloe Mackenzie, Rule of Law section based at the British Embassy in Kabul, describes how the Rule of Law section try to improve the legal system in Afghanistan by placing more emphasis on evidence-based prosecutions.

Alison Oswald: “I think in some cases schools were built without sufficient consultation with communities. Schools are seen as belonging to the government and insurgent groups. I think they're very interested in schools as a target rather than as a place of learning. I think our project is different because we asked the community to provide a room, think that provides a lot of resiliency because insurgents think twice about attacking a mosque where there's a class of children or a home where there's a class of children. But I think in a lot of areas, a school is not, it's more than people need. There aren't enough children to fill it up. There aren't enough teachers to work there. The Ministry of Education doesn't have a budget to keep it running. So, I think sometimes good intentions are implemented, maybe without thinking about sustainability.” 


Alison Oswald, Project Manager for the Steps Towards Afghan Girls Educational Success (STAGES) Project for the Aga Khan Foundation, talks about some of the problems in improving education and how her project has tried to overcome them.

Major Adam Jones: “What we did is we got local national contractors in and we built a lot of, well the 93 checkpoints for the Afghan police and the army in a local method. So, this is using local mud, local bricks, local contractors. It puts money into the local economy rather than putting in using western contractors, but also the local people identify the project as been local, therefore they see the army and the police as being local, working for them, rather than being a force imposed on them. And it's, it's making sure that the military understand the importance of the project from the civilian point of view and also the civilians understand the, any implications for the military and It's, it's really tying the two together.” 

Improving Infrastructure and Key Services

Major Adam Jones, Chief of Staff of the Military Stabilisation Support Group, describes a construction project he was involved in and the role of the Military Stabilisation Support Group.

Andy Corcoran: “The central districts of Helmand, there's been enormous change and even in a really difficult part of Helmand, which is, which is the northern districts, you know these places, Musa Qala, Kajaki, even there there's there has been, there has been change as well, positive change. The problem up there is there has been for 10 years, a very sort of narrow political and franchisement, and that's been driving, driving the insurgency and we've seen a broadening of that over, over time. 

So, I think the Afghan government can point to those things as progress but you know, it would be silly of me or anyone else to sit here and say it's all, it's all sweetness and light. Juries out to be honest. We'll have to see. There's, there are so many factors that will determine the outcome. I mean, so many complex factors. It's just. It's very, very hard to, to, to, to sort of have a clear idea of what's going to happen next. So, it will be fascinating and a privilege to be to still be here while you know, while the election takes place and while the aftermath is. All the result is is, is, is, is still playing out and to see how, you know, how that relates to what comes next.” 

An Uncertain Future

Andy Corcoran, UK Head of Politics for the Helmand Provincial Reconstruction Team (HPRT), highlights that there has been change in even the most problematic areas of Helmand but that the future of the situation is still unsettled.

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