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Taliban vs British Army vs Whitehall
Posted By:Hajas On 1/14/2007

Taliban vs British Army vs Whitehall


By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent, Sunday Telegraph
Last Updated: 12:30am GMT 14/01/2007

A lack of political direction, a shortage of soldiers and "complete disconnection" between the Foreign Office and Ministry of Defence combined to hinder progress in the war in Afghanistan, a report by military chiefs has concluded.

 
Brig Ed Butler, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade
Brig Ed Butler, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade

The document, drawn up by senior officers from 16 Air Assault Brigade, gives a withering assessment of how decisions in Whitehall prevented progress against the Taliban and, sources claim, contributed to deaths and injuries among soldiers.

The report, the first official assessment of the conflict, says the operation suffered from a "lack of early political direction" because ministers delayed announcing that troops were being sent to Helmand province until early last year, even though commanders were aware six months beforehand that the operation would take place. It concludes that insufficient soldiers were sent to fight the Taliban and complains of differences between the Foreign Office and MoD over counter-narcotics policy.

The report, written at the end of last year, is working its way up the military chain of command. It states in "clear and precise" terms that the forces sent to Afghanistan could have achieved more and suffered fewer casualties if greater numbers had gone at the start.

"Lessons learned" from the campaign suggest that if commanders had been given more troops, they would have been able to man properly bases in the notorious towns of Nowzad, Sangin and Musa Qala, where 12 soldiers died between June and September.

Although the report does not specify how many extra troops would have been required, senior commanders say the initial force of 3,500 needed a further 1,000 combat troops, together with extra helicopters and support units.

One senior officer who has seen the report said that with a larger force Brig Ed Butler, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, would have had greater flexibility to conduct "rapid reaction operations" against the Taliban and begin "reconstruction in the so-called Afghan development zone".

The officer said that 60 years after the Second World War, senior commanders and ministers had ignored Field Marshal the Viscount Slim's maxim that "the more you use, the less you lose".

Troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade deployed into Helmand, in southern Afghanistan, last May as part of an expansion of the International Security and Assistance Force in the south of the country. Over a 12-week period, elements of the brigade became embroiled in the most intense fighting since the Korean war in 1950. The troops were involved in dozens of bitter battles with the Taliban during which every weapon system, from the assault rifle to the Apache attack helicopters, was used to kill insurgents.

After the deployment was announced last year, John Reid, then the defence secretary, consistently denied that the force was under strength, despite high-level unofficial briefings in which senior officers said that commanders needed extra infantry, helicopters and logistics troops.

The report concludes that the deployment into theatre was "too slow", with troops arriving "in dribbles" rather than in large numbers because of a lack of RAF transport aircraft.

It also emphasises the need for all troops, not just the infantry, to be trained as "war-fighters" - including cooks, drivers and engineers - in such a hostile combat environment.

A spokesman for the MoD said: "Extra troops were only requested on one occasion and they were sent. The whole point of a post-operational report is to lean lessons."

Patrick Mercer, the shadow homeland security minister, said: "It was clear all along that not enough troops were being sent and that this was a political and not a military decision.




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