In their rapid takeover of Kabul, the Taliban captured a picture of high significance to the elite British soldiers who fought in Afghanistan nearly 20 years ago.
It depicts the first combat the Special Air Service saw during the US-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Operation Trent, which happened in November 2001, saw British special forces destroy a Taliban opium plant and Al Qaeda training camp 400km south-west of Kandahar at the base of the Koh-i-Malik mountain.
The image, a print of the original painting, had hung at the British embassy in Kabul since 2005 until the Taliban’s capture of the Afghan capital last month.
A reporter for The Times in Kabul took a recent photo of Taliban fighters holding the image.
“It made my blood boil to see it in the hands of the Taliban. Then came a huge range of emotions,” an unnamed former SAS commander told The Times, adding that it was the first raid they carried out.
“That photograph is the symbolic closing of a chapter of 20 years of war in Afghanistan, complete with the irony of the enemy we were fighting in November 2001 holding that same picture in their hands.”
“It’s not quite losing the flag. It’s only a print, but it is hugely significant to see it photographed in the hands of the Taliban, and with that comes the realisation that we’ve lost our reputation on the back of Biden’s decision and been strategically defeated by a ragtag army.”
The image of the battle was painted by British artist James Hart Dyke. He said it was “a surreal moment” to see the Taliban holding the picture. The original is currently at the SAS’s base in Hereford.
Another SAS veteran told The Times: “The objective was a well-defended, well-sited position held by a mix of foreign fighters and the Taliban.
“It was the beginning of our counterterrorism response to 9/11 — very significant."
He said that “in the immediacy of 9/11, it was the right thing” to “hunt down” those who had killed thousands of Americans.
A soldier who fought in the mission described it as “an absolute statement by people more robust and ultimately more powerful than us that despite our aircraft carriers and drones we can still lose, because we fight the wrong battles and they fight with more resilience and fight longer”.
“It’s a tombstone painting. It’s a full circle thing that says with time, regardless of all your power, this country belongs to us.”