After the longest conflict in modern times, the lowering of the Union Flag in Camp Bastion marks the end of Britain's 13-year campaign. The symbolic ceremony represented the formal handover of power to Afghan Forces.
During Operation Herrick, 9,500 British military personnel were based in Afghanistan.
In total, 453 British lives were lost fighting the Taliban. Thousands more were injured, many permanently. The brave front conceals deep wounds.
The Defence Secretary said, "Afghanistan is now a safer, most prosperous and democratic place than when we started.
However, what do the families of the dead or wounded soldiers think? Is this any reason for the terrible sacrifice made?
As you know, I use news stories as a basis for the visions in my Moonstone series of novels.
In each novel, the main character is swept away to random places, where she acts as a little inner voice of reason to help in the situation she finds herself in. Here's an excerpt about a new bride and her soldier husband from Ever Changing Sea, the final unpublished novel in the series.
Black dots appeared before her eyes. In the next breath, she inhaled the sweet perfume of lilies. A whirling tunnel spun her away. Flashes of color revolved in a blur of motion. Patterns shaped and reshaped in twists and swirls. A deep boom and roar resembling the hum of an industrial air conditioner rang in her ears. Spinning faster and faster, she tumbled inside the churning passageway toward another place.
* * *
I'm flying again. My breath catches, although such a thing can't happen when my body's not here. Penetrating the blur, I scan a strange room. I can't make out the details, but after a few seconds, the veil lifts. My view of the scene reminds me of peering into a telescope. Details come into focus at the center of my gaze, but the edges are blurred. Although the experience is not new, I take a moment to adjust. Taking care to maintain balance despite the familiar vertigo, I swing my gaze from one fuzzy image to another in the room and concentrate until objects solidify.
Small windows cast light on twin beds covered with aqua quilts matching a deeper shade of carpet on the smooth wooden floor.
At a jingle, a woman discards her paper and reaches for her mobile phone.
With instant speed, I meld with her, not understanding how, just aware of the result.
Instead of mine, her head turns. We hold the phone to our ear and gaze at the gray sky outside.
"Anne." Her husband's voice quivers with urgency. "My unit is leaving tomorrow."
We glance at a newspaper with today's date. The news article about the UK government's renewed action in sending British troops away remains fresh in her mind. With rising anger she blurts, "Is this why you joined the army? To fight someone else's war? Are you ready to sacrifice your life for that, and ruin mine?"
His voice snaps. "It's not for me to question orders. This is what I joined up for. There's a job to do, a country to defend. You knew I was a soldier when I met you. Why are you bringing this up now? Right when I'm about to leave?"
Our hand fiddles with the bed-covers. A gold wedding band catches the light.
They're about to argue, and I'm eavesdropping without intent. But I'm here to do a job: help her make a correct decision or avert harm. What would I do in her circumstances? I know the answer to that. I'd do anything to keep my love alive.
"This war is wrong," we say. "Did they ask you if you want to join this fight? No, they didn't. It's not as if you're defending our shores. Oh, you never take any notice of me. Do what you want." We toss the phone onto the bed, while she wishes she'd never spoken that way.
I yell at her, 'Call him back, you fool.'
Anne hesitates, pride and stubbornness balling up inside her. Let him call her if their relationship matters that much. What does he care about what she wants? He just does what he pleases and takes no notice. Playing men's war games.
'He cares. Of course he cares.' I whisper. 'Don't waste your precious love. Just ring him and apologize.' My advice acts like the inner voice we all hear, warning of danger, advising in times of stress.
We slump forward. Anne condemns herself. She must have been mad to let her fear spill out like that—sick with apprehension about so many coffins returning from overseas and knowing he could be in one of them. She's wrecked their love and trust with her harsh words. She might never see him again. Why argue right now?
'Ring ... him ... back.' I ache for her, but force my opinion onto her mind. 'Don't think. Do.'
Spirit sagging, we reach for the phone, press the re-dial button and wait. We dab our eyes with the other hand and swallow tears. The phone rings on.
At last, he answers with a curt, 'Yes.' He's puffing.
Our heart leaps, skips a beat, and then races. "It's me. I just want to tell you I love you."
"Thank God you rang. I felt so ... never mind. We spoke in haste. Worrying times. I love you too."
With relief, we draw a breath. "I—."
He cuts in, "I've got to go now, but I'll carry you inside my heart. Remember our love. That's the most important thing." The line goes dead.
Euphoria battles with anxiety. We raise our gaze and say, "Keep him safe, Lord. I love him so much." Happiness removes the sour end of the earlier conversation.
On the power of her exhilaration, I rise. Anne and her surroundings fade while I spin inside the tunnel of dreams.
* * *