Operations in Afghanistan

ISAF Convoy, Kabul 2001

December 2001 - August 2021

The Global War on Terror is an ongoing international military campaign led by the USA and the UK with the support of other countries, both NATO and non-NATO. The campaign began in 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks with the USA/UK invasion of Afghanistan.

The deployment of British Forces into Afghanistan had the primary objective of providing:

“A stable and secure Afghanistan restored to its rightful place in the community of nations and enjoying mature relations with its neighbours; with a self-sustaining economy, strong institutions and a broad-based, multi-ethnic regime committed to eradicating terrorism and eliminating opium production; reducing poverty; respecting human rights, especially that of women and minority groups; and honouring Afghanistan’s other international obligations.”

VSC 501 Manual repoint, Kabul, Jan 2001
TCW, Kabul 2001


First day in Kabul, Operation , Jan 2001
C-17 Landing at Kabul Airhead, Feb 2001
Operation JACANA , Afghanistan, April 2002

From the outset, Tactical Communications Wing were deployed to support an early entry capability for the Special Forces working out of Bagram airbase. With the Taliban suppressed in that region, a second Tactical Communications Wing detachment was deployed in support of 16 Air Assault Brigade and the International Security Force. This team installed vital communications using a VSC 501 and Satellite Access Node, Tactical Air Traffic Control, and emergency lighting systems into Kabul airfield, using satellite terminals.  


The runway had been destroyed but, once it was repaired Tactical Communications Wing personnel laid 56 km of cables and installed a full runway lighting system of Portable Air Guidance Lights covering 2.5km of runway.  This was done in extremely cold weather and under sporadic small arms fire from the local population and an earthquake which measured 7.5 on the Richter scale.


Tactical Communications Wing personnel and assets supporting Operation FINGAL were redeployed from an exercise in Oman. They were supplemented by a second Radio Control Cabin, to support the Special Forces detachment.  Communications teams with VSC 501 satellite terminals and Rapid Deployment Vehicles were also deployed to the Sultanate of Oman and Pakistan.  An additional Tactical Communications Wing team provided communications with the Nimrod surveillance aircraft operating in the area.

Tactical Communications Wing personnel in the Force HQ in Bagram also provided communications for the Royal Marines, on Operation Jacana, who carried out aggressive patrols to search for elusive Al Quaeda members in Southeast Afghanistan, with aerial support and transportation from Chinooks helicopters.

Operation HERRICK Memoirs

Operation HERRICK

Kandahar Airfield, 2020
Operation, Repatriation of the Fallen

 As the country prepared for its first democratic elections in Oct 2004, UK aircraft again provided reconnaissance and close air support capability for coalition forces and the International Security Assistance Force.  Tactical Communications Wing were providing communications support to Harriers at Kandahar, the country’s second city some 280 miles from the capital Kabul.  The city had been severely damaged by Afghan guerrillas during the Soviet occupation.  It had since been a major stronghold of the Taliban government, who had surrendered after bombardment in December 2001. With the Taliban forces regrouping in 2005, additional forces were deployed to Kandahar and later into Helmand province at Camp Bastion. The Tactical Communications Wing installed the first operational 6 node RAF Transportable Telecommunications System, meshed network and maintained a commitment until 2021with teams rotating every 10 weeks.

Enduring Operations

Joint Harrier Force HQ, Op Herrick, KAF 2009
RAF Tornado, KAF Afghanistan, 2010
RAF Reaper, Afghanistan, 2011
Apachie Helicopter Quick Reaction Force, Camp Bastion, Afghanistan

Throughout the early part of the 21st century, despite ongoing contingent operations, Operation HERRICK remained the main effort for 90 Signals Unit. However, at the end of 2009, Tactical Communications Wing adopted a new Operational Training and Readiness Cycle to support Enduring and Contingent Operations, which was  split into four-month phases:


  • Training for Contingent Operations
  • Contingent Operations
  • Training for Enduring Operations
  • Enduring Operations

Each Tactical Communications Wing Field Communications Squadron rotated through each phase of the cycle.

Tactical Communications Wing provided the Kandahar Information and Communications Systems Squadron, supporting the numerous Coalition Force elements based at Kandahar Airfield.  Support for Operation HERRICK remained a partnership between the Tactical Communications Wing Field Communications Squadron and other supporting elements within 90 Signals Unit Force Generation Wing.  5 (Information Services) Squadron providing round-the-clock support to deployed information systems and other elements of 90 Signals Unit provide depth support and surge capability. 

During this time, personnel from the Rapid Application and Integration Development Team, 5 (Information Services) Squadron and the Tactical Communications Wing Field Communications Squadron carried out some innovative work to support Operations.  This has included support for combat intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition, reconnaissance and providing solutions to pass biometric data back to the UK for analysis. 


Additionally, innovations from the Rapid Application and Integration Development team allowed imagery intelligence data to be passed back from Theatre for detailed analysis by personnel of the Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing, based at Marham.  The large volume of imagery collected by the Reconnaissance Airborne Pod for Tornado, or RAPTOR, exceeded the small, deployed Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing team’s ability to carry out analysis.  The solution for ‘Reachback’ provided by 90 Signals Unit allowed Tactical Imagery Intelligence Wing to quickly analyse the imagery in the UK and then report back to the deployed team.

90 Signals Unit also had personnel operating at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province, one of the busiest airfields in the World at the time, with its radar and navigation aids are supported by a small team of Tactical Communications Wing personnel, embedded within 903 Expeditionary Air Wing. 

Until 2021 90 Signals Unit continued to play its part in bringing peace and stability to Afghanistan.  Unit personnel were continually deployed within Afghanistan since the enablement in 2001 and were one of, if not the, longest serving UK military Units in Theatre.

2001 - 2021, Operation HERRICK to PITTING

TACATC, Bargram, Jan 2001
Kabul Airhead, Feb 2001
UN Sectary General, Kabul 2001
RAF Harrier Op Herrick, KAF 2008
Op Pitting, RAF Brize Norton, 2022


 In 2021 the fall of Kabul, come to be known as the fall of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, was the capture of Afghanistan’s capital city of Kabul by the Taliban on 15 August 2021, the culmination of a military offensive which began in May 2021. The city’s capture prompted an international airlift of fleeing civilians and took place hours after President Ashraf Ghani fled the country to Uzbekistan.

Large-scale evacuations of foreign citizens and some vulnerable Afghan citizens took place amid the withdrawal of US and NATO forces from the War in Afghanistan and the Taliban offensive. After the fall of Kabul and the collapse of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai International Airport remained the only non-Taliban controlled route out of the country, being protected by several thousand NATO troops.

Although some countries had previously begun small-scale evacuation efforts in the months leading up to August 2021, such as the British Operation Pitting and the American Operation Allies Refuge, the collapse of the Afghan government occurred sooner than intelligence projections had estimated, and evacuation efforts became significantly more urgent. Several countries launched new evacuation operations, such as the Canadian Operation AEGIS, the Indian Operation Devi Shakti, and South Korean Operation Miracle.

The evacuation operations were one of the largest airlifts in history. Between 14 and 25 August, over 122,000 people were airlifted across the collation with TCW and TacATCU  teams providing key communications facilities and support throughout the operation. Thus in 2021 Operation Pitting, ended a 20-year commitment to operations in Afghanistan.


Operation PITTING, Kabul

RAF Activities and Background