The British Armed Forces have returned 843 artefacts from the British Museum to the Afghan capital, Kabul, almost 20 years after they were stolen and smuggled abroad.
The objects include items made in three separate seizures by customs officials as they were being smuggled into the UK, as well as another group from other investigations by the Art and Antiques Unit of the Metropolitan Police.
These objects were identified as originating in Afghanistan by the British Museum and were stored at the Museum for safekeeping and recording until their return to Kabul. Additional objects were saved by private individuals.
The precious cargo, weighing just over two tonnes, left RAF Brize Norton, in Oxfordshire, last week (12 July) after the British Museum and the Royal Air Force worked together to make the historic repatriation possible.
Travelling onboard a C17 transport aircraft, the material was first transported to Camp Bastion, the main military base in Helmand. After a short stop, it took off again on the second leg of the journey, on a C130 Hercules aircraft, to Kabul.
The artefacts, some of which went missing from the National Museum of Afghanistan during civil war in the country, and others from more recent illegal excavations of archaeological sites, have now all been safely returned and a selection will go on display in the near future.
The Prime Minister, David Cameron, confirmed the artefacts' safe arrival in a press conference, alongside Afghan President Hamid Karzai, last week.
Commenting on the move, Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said: "The transfer of these items is a vote of confidence and a step forward in Afghanistan's journey towards normalisation. It is fitting that the British Armed Forces should play a role in their return, alongside the British Museum and others.
"For UK forces to be a part of the process is a symbol of how Britain stands squarely behind Afghanistan in its efforts to become a country capable of standing on its own two feet."
This is the first time the military has assisted in the transportation of historic artefacts to Afghanistan – a task previously undertaken, in 2009, by the International Red Cross.
A memorandum of understanding between the British Museum and the National Museum of Afghanistan, signed in 2011, now ensures that efforts will continue to identify and return further artefacts to Kabul.