On Sunday, American and British troops completed a secret withdrawal from Helmand Province, handing over one of the largest bases in Afghanistan to local troops. The maneuver effectively ended Britain's involvement in the 13-year-old war and was a major step in the drawdown of American combat troops, which are slated to leave Afghanistan by the end of the year.
While there is a surfeit of fondness for declaring a theater of battle to be "key" or "crucial" or "vital," these descriptors actually fit Helmand, especially within the context of America's longest war. Helmand, in addition to being Afghanistan's largest province, was the venue of some of the war's bloodiest action.
The most direct way of understanding the importance of Helmand may not be in the numbers of battles (many) or accompanying casualties (also many), but in what British and American forces are leaving behind. The compound hosting the adjacent American and British bases⎯Camp Leatherneck and Camp Bastion, respectively⎯is spread across about 6,500 acres of desert (or one-eighth the size of Baltimore) and housed as many as 40,000 personnel at its peak (or more than one-fourth of the total coalition forces).
As Reuters notes, the U.S. military is leaving behind "$230 million worth of property and equipment" for use by the Afghan troops, including an airstrip and a number of buildings. As The Wall Street Journal reports, the Afghan Army's 215th Corps will also be inheriting chairs, coffee machines, and a "row of cars ... with their keys in the engine, ready to be driven by Afghan soldiers."