UK warplanes could support Afghan drawdown, says Royal Navy chief

The combat mission would be Britain's first in the war-torn country since 2014

US Marines board a C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft headed to Kandahar as British and US forces withdraw from the Camp Bastion-Leatherneck complex at Lashkar Gah in Helmand province on October 27, 2014. British forces October 26 handed over formal control of their last base in Afghanistan to Afghan forces, ending combat operations in the country after 13 years which cost hundreds of lives. The Union Jack was lowered at Camp Bastion in the southern province of Helmand, while the Stars and Stripes came down at the adjacent Camp Leatherneck -- the last US Marine base in the country. AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR (Photo by WAKIL KOHSAR / AFP)
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The UK may send warplanes to Afghanistan to assist in the withdrawal of UK and US troops, the head of the Royal Navy said on Saturday.

Admiral Tony Radakin, the First Sea Lord, told The Times the HMS Queen Elizabeth aircraft carrier could sail to the Indian Ocean to offer protection against attacks from the Taliban.

It would be the first UK combat mission in Afghanistan since 2014 and would involve 18 F-35 stealth jets from No 617 squadron and the US Marine Corps.

US President Joe Biden in April pledged to end America’s “forever war” in Afghanistan and vowed to call back all US forces – about 2,500 troops – starting in May.

The head of Britain's armed forces, Gen Sir Nick Carter, at the time said he accepted the decision although he did not welcome it.

Britain said it would withdraw about 700 troops, while Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would pull out about 7,000 military personnel.

The drawdown will end on September 11, marking the 20th anniversary of terrorist attacks on New York and Washington.

Adm Radakin explained the role that HMS Queen Elizabeth could play in any impending manoeuvres.

“You could put the aircraft carrier in the safe space of the Indian Ocean with all of its logistics, all incredibly safe, and then you put aircraft over the top of Afghanistan in order to support the troops,” he said.

The flight time between the Arabian Sea and Afghanistan is approximately two hours.

The aircraft could be involved in action similar to the US jets launched from USS Eisenhower in April, in retaliation for a Taliban rocket attack on Kandahar airfield.