Saturday, February 28, 2009

How soft toys can win hearts and minds

NERVOUSLY, the pretty young girl approaches Sgt Elvit "Taff" Williams, unsure what to do with the fluffy toy in his outstretched hand.

She has probably never seen a panda – or even photographs of one – in her life and is unable to mask her uncertainty.

But like any child in the world, she does know a toy when she sees one and she shyly smiles her gratitude, her eyes lighting up with joy as she tucks the cherished present under her arm.
A soft toy is an unlikely weapon in the battle to restore law and order to Afghanistan, but it is one being used with massive success.

Sgt Williams, of Chivenor's Commando Logistics Regiment (CLR), is one of the men truly on the front line of the fight to win hearts and minds in this war-torn country.

The Information Operations man discards part of his body armour and heads into villages to build bridges with the local population.
Normally clean-shaven, he has even grown a shaggy beard in order to blend in better with locals.
"It's quite simple. I just go into the community and talk to the local Afghans," says the father-of-two.

"I grew my beard because they see a beard and they see someone in charge and they look up to you."

Determined to appear non-threatening, Sgt Williams, who lives in Barnstaple, North Devon, even removes his helmet.

"It shows I am ready to communicate on their level and that is very important.

"What we do is go into villages and give consent-winning items, likes toys to the children, wind-up radios, blankets and prayer mats.

"We even hand out copies of the Koran, but they are wrapped in green bags to show that we have not touched them. In general, it goes down really well. People are curious to see us."

The exercise isn't just about making friends – it is also a vital method of gathering intelligence on the villages which are creeping ever closer to Camp Bastion in the desert of Afghanistan's notorious Helmand province.

Many feel that the mud compounds, which house an entire extended family and often spring up overnight, are getting nearer to Bastion as locals seek the refuge from conflict it offers. There is no getting away from the suspicion, however, that some compounds might be used by the Taliban to hide their activities.

By using the simple weapon of polite conversation and inquiry, Sgt Williams attempts to find out who is a friend and where the foes are.

"We ask about enemy forces in the area and whether they have seen anything. Fairs-dos to them, they will tell us things," he says.

"They will try and tell us that things are happening elsewhere and that there is nothing to see around where they live."

The reception is not always so warm.

"There are times when you just sense something is wrong," says Sgt Williams.

"We have had a couple of moments when we have seen vehicles coming into the village we are in and we have thought: 'It's time to go.'"

On Saturday, Commanding Officer of CLR, Colonel Andy Maynard, was able to meet his Afghan neighbours face-to-face when he stepped outside the camp compound.

"It was great to go outside and see the locals in their own area," he said.

"You have to hand it to them. A lot of the locals moved out of the area at first, but have now come back.

"I handed wrapped-up copies of the Koran to the local mullah and he was just so happy to get them.

"It's lovely to get out and

Armoured Tigers are standing down after their toughest tour of duty

THEY’RE on their way home.
Hampshire soldiers have started to leave Afghanistan and make their way home to loved ones following a ferocious six months on the frontline.
Just short of 100 men of the 1st Battalion, Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment (1PWRR), will return to their German barracks this weekend after one of their most active tours of duty in recent years.

Their remaining number will all be out of the war-torn country by the middle of next week.
For the wives, girlfriends and children the anxious wait for their return is almost over - with little more than 24 hours left before the first contingent of soldiers – nicknamed the Armoured Tigers – touch down on German soil.

It was in August last year that around 170 men from B Company deployed to Helmand Province to fight on the frontline alongside the Royal Marines from 3 Commando Brigade.

Two weeks ago they played a pivotal role in the smashing of a £50m drugs ring that saw heroin, drug making equipment and weaponry seized in the heart of the Taliban's stronghold.

Their fellow soldiers of A and C Company are currently half way through a tour of Iraq, where they are helping to train troops of the Iraqi army.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Taleban reconciliation 'possible' - BBC

By Frank Gardner
BBC Security Correspondent

Reconciliation with the Taleban is possible, says Gulab Mangal, the governor of Afghanistan's troubled Helmand province.

But he said it was not possible with the extreme members, who had links to international terrorism.

Governor Mangal told the BBC the keys to defeating the Afghan insurgency were reconciliation and better governance.

Also, he said, the elimination of the Taleban's sanctuaries that straddle the Afghan-Pakistan border.

The energetic and reform-minded Governor Mangal is much favoured by Britain, which has over 8,000 troops deployed to Afghanistan.

On a day when news broke of three more British deaths in Helmand province, bringing the total killed since 2001 to 148, he said that coalition soldiers fighting the Taleban were doing it "for the sake of the world's humanity".

In a reference to al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, he said if Helmand province was not secure, then London would not be either.

He denied recent reports that the Taleban were in control of more than half of his province and insisted that Nato and Afghan security forces were jointly inflicting heavy losses on the Taleban and interrupting the narcotics trade, in which he said they were heavily involved.

"We have taken serious steps towards the narcotics problem," he told a news conference earlier.

"Dozens of smugglers have been captured, many heroin facilities have been destroyed and 41 tonnes of drugs have been confiscated.

"The Taleban and drug dealers are working closely together and we have proof that the Taleban are forcing farmers to plant opium poppies and punishing them if they refuse," he said.

"The Taleban are even escorting drugs convoys around the country and out of it for export. But this year [because of our efforts] you will see a decrease in poppy production."

'Bailing out'

But Governor Mangal did not deny that his government was having to confront serious problems in Helmand, a province which continues to see some of Afghanistan's fiercest fighting.

He divided the Taleban into three categories, only two of which he said could be negotiated with.

The first was those fighters with international links like al-Qaeda, and these the Afghan government would never reconcile with.

The second group, he said, was nationalist jihadis fighting primarily to expel foreign forces from their land, and these he believed could eventually be brought into the government.

The third group listed by Governor Mangal was comprised of those Afghans who had joined the insurgency for personal reasons, such as resentment of weak government or abuse at the hands of the authorities; these too, he believed could be reconciled with.

As to how long the international coalition would need to stay in Afghanistan, Governor Mangal would not be drawn.

But on one point he was clear: the insurgency, he said, could not be defeated unless the Taleban's sanctuaries were eliminated.

He likened this to bailing water out of a boat at sea.

"If there is a hole in the boat and the water is coming in and we are taking it out with a bucket," he said, "we will never be able to stop the sea water coming in if we don't plug the hole."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Corporal Tom Gaden, Lance Corporal Paul Upton and Rifleman Jamie Gunn killed in Afghanistan

It is with deepest regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the deaths of Corporal Tom Gaden, Lance Corporal Paul Upton and Rifleman Jamie Gunn all of 1st Battalion The Rifles Regiment, in southern Afghanistan yesterday, Wednesday 25 February 2009.

The soldiers died from wounds sustained as a result of an enemy explosion during an escort patrol in Gereshk district, central Helmand province.

Corporal Tom Gaden, 1st Battalion The Rifles

Corporal Tom Gaden was killed in action on Wednesday 25 February 2009 when the vehicle in which he and two other Riflemen of his Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) were travelling was struck by an IED on the highway East of Gereshk. He was on patrol with his OMLT with whom he had been operating since January 2009.

Tom Gaden was born on 23 November 1984 in Taunton, attending Bishop Fox’s Community School. He took part in the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme and had been a member of the Blackbrook Scout Troop.

He enlisted into the Army in Taunton and on completion of the Combat Infantryman’s Course at the Infantry Training Centre Catterick, was posted to the Second Battalion, the Light Infantry (2 LI, later to become 3 RIFLES)) on 25 November 2002.

He was promoted to Lance Corporal in 2005 and attended the Section Commanders' Battle course in the summer of 2006. His performance was remarked upon as the 'best of the 2 LI batch'.

He served on Op TELIC 2 (Iraq) and on peace keeping operations in Cyprus, joining the 2 LI Recce (Reconnaissance) Platoon where he was 'zealous and enthusiastic' by nature, earning the respect of his peers and becoming one of the most popular members of his platoon.

Corporal Gaden was posted to the First Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) in February 2008, moving to E Company that April, and was immediately selected to attend the Close Quarter Battle Skills Course with a view to passing on these skills to the Company for the tour to Afghanistan.

However, he was almost immediately selected to deploy as a Section Commander to Um Qasr, Iraq, as part of the Battalion’s commitment to that operational theatre. He spent four months working with the Naval Transition Team before redeploying just after Christmas 2008 to rejoin his original team in a remote Forward Operating Base (FOB) in Helmand, Southern Afghanistan.

Corporal Gaden was a competent and assuredly professional operator, selected for the technically complex skills of Close Quarter Battle, then selected again to carry out a discrete and independent task for the Battalion.

He took these rapid changes in his stride, remaining resourceful and flexible to the operational requirements and always relishing the challenge. He thrived in Iraq and led his Section with skill and determination throughout that short tour.

On arrival in Afghanistan, he immediately involved himself in the small team environment in an isolated and austere FOB, as team 3ic (third in command), stepping up where necessary as second in command of the team.

Corporal Gaden was a Rifleman of the calibre that has shaped the Regiment’s reputation and the Battalion’s character and ethos. He was well known for his strong faith and deep sense of duty, which was reflected in his qualities as a commander and friend to those around him.

He was part of the future of this great organisation and his sacrifice will be felt by all Riflemen. Our sense of loss cannot match the sorrow and grief that is being felt by Corporal Gaden’s family, and his fiancĂ©e. Our prayers are with them at this time.

Once a Rifleman, always a Rifleman, 'Swift and Bold'

Lance Corporal Paul 'Uppers' Upton, 1st Battalion the Rifles

Acting Lance Corporal Paul Upton was killed in action when the vehicle in which he and two other Riflemen of his OMLT were travelling was struck by an IED the highway East of Gereshk on Wednesday 25 February 2009. He was on patrol with his OMLT with whom he had been operating since April 2008.

Paul Upton was born in Paderborn on 17 March 1977. He originally enlisted into the Army in Salisbury in August 1986. On completion of his Combat Infantryman’s course at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick he was posted to A Company, First Battalion The Royal Gloucestershire, Berkshire and Wiltshire Regiment (1 RGBW) on 24 February 1997.

He served in the Anti-Tank Platoon with a tour to Northern Ireland and exercises in Canada. Lance Corporal Upton left the army in 2000 to pursue other interests, although he was deployed as a reservist to Kosovo with the First Battalion the Princess’s of Wales Royal Regiment. He re-enlisted in December 2007 and was posted to E Company, First Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES) in April 2008, in time to commence Pre-Deployment Training for their operational tour in Afghanistan, alongside his brother Leon, a Serjeant in C Company of the same Battalion.

Lance Corporal Upton was thirty one years old. Mature and experienced, lance Corporal Upton immediately settled back into Regimental life. It was as if he had never been away and he clearly relished being back in the Battalion environment and back with many of his friends from his former Regiment.

His determined and friendly manner was evident in his energetic approach to all he did, and he took many of the younger Riflemen under his wing, offering advice, but never forcing it, and ‘digging out blind’ at all tasks. He led by example and encouraged others with boundless enthusiasm and a ready smile.

He was a clear candidate for the forthcoming Non-Commissioned Officer cadre and had already shown his ability and potential as an Acting Lance Corporal during the tour.
As a Mentor to the Afghan National Army, his patience and maturity shone through and he was a vital part of the mentoring effort.

This tragic loss will be felt sorely by all who knew him in the Battalion, and particularly by his team-mates. He was a constant presence and a rock for the team, bearing adversity and hardship with consummate ease and a constantly bright outlook on life, which was a bonus to all who knew him.

However, we feel most for the sorrow and grief of Paul’s parents Peter and Christine, his brother Leon, and his much loved son Jake. Our sense of loss is nothing compared to their grief and we are thinking and praying for them at this time.

Once a Rifleman, always a Rifleman, 'Swift and Bold'

Rifleman Jamie Gunn, 1st Battalion the Rifles

Rifleman Jamie Gunn was killed in action when the vehicle in which he and two other Riflemen of his OMLT were travelling was struck by an IED on the highway East of Gereshk on Wednesday 25 February 2009. He was on patrol with his Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team with whom he had been operating since April 2008.

Jamie Gunn was born on 4 August 1987 in Leamington Spa and grew up in Monmouth, Wales. He was selected as an apprentice for Land Rover before deciding that his future lay in the armed forces.

Soon after turning twenty, he enlisted into the Army in Hereford on 20 November 2007. Whilst waiting to start his basic training he worked long hours to get to the peak of physical fitness. He successfully completed his Combat Infantryman’s course at the Infantry Training Centre in Catterick in May 2008, triumphing over an injury to reach the required standard.

On passing out from the Centre he was posted to ‘E’ Company (E Coy), First Battalion The Rifles (1 RIFLES), in Beachley, Gloucestershire. He was twenty-one years old.

As a new Rifleman in the newly formed Company, Rifleman Gunn settled in quickly to the hectic pace of Pre-Deployment Training, where his previous experience as a Land Rover mechanic was put to good use.

Practical with his hands and always keen to help, he was an asset to the team in making their life more comfortable when in the rough conditions of exercise and later on operations in Helmand, southern Afghanistan.

Careful in his choice of friends, he was a loyal and conscientious young man who was enthusiastic about his expectant career.

Predictably, he came out of his shell once the tour started in earnest, quickly establishing himself as a core member of his team and earning the respect of his commanders and fellow Riflemen alike.

Humorous, and at the centre of every banter session, he was clearly relishing his chosen profession, taking pride in his work and totally at ease in the harsh and austere working environment of these eight-man teams.

His valuable work with the soldiers of the Afghan National Army saw them develop noticeably over the months he acted as a Mentor.

He was an integral part of a small and tight knit team, forged by common experience and communal struggle. His loss drives a deep sadness into this team and he will be sorely missed by those who will continue the struggle.

Our pain does not compare to the grief of his parents, Janet and Mervyn, and his sister Jess; our thoughts and prayers are with them at this time.

Once a Rifleman, always a Rifleman, 'Swift and Bold'

Marine Michael Laski dies of wounds sustained in Afghanistan

Marine Michael 'Mick' Laski of Signals Detachment, Yankee Company, 45 Commando Royal Marines, passed away peacefully at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham on 25 February 2009 with his family beside him.

Despite displaying true Commando qualities to the very end, Marine Laski died of the wounds he sustained in action on 23 February 2009 to the north of Sangin, Helmand province, Afghanistan.

On the morning of Monday 23 February 2009, Yankee Company was conducting a foot patrol to provide security to the local Afghan community when they were engaged by heavy and accurate enemy fire.

Caught in open ground during this initial exchange, Marine Laski was struck by an enemy bullet whilst the patrol fought back to regain the initiative. In spite of every effort by his colleagues, and his own trademark determination, he never regained consciousness.

Marine Michael 'Mick' Laski

Michael Laski, 21, was born in Liverpool on 11 May 1987. After completing Royal Marines Commando recruit training in September 2006, he joined 45 Commando Royal Marines and immediately deployed with the unit on Operation HERRICK 5 to Afghanistan.

Returning to the unit in early 2008 after successfully completing his Royal Marines Signals Specialisation course, his dedication, enthusiasm and professionalism ensured that he immediately stood out from his peers.

The epitome of a Royal Marine, his desire to be right at the heart of Commando unit life manifested itself in his single-minded determination and desire to return to a close combat company. Confident in his abilities, his relentless drive and tenacity and the continual pestering of the Signal Troop Sergeant Major saw him joining Yankee Company in time for operations in the Upper Sangin Valley in Afghanistan on Operation HERRICK 9.

Marine Laski was a dependable, brave and selfless man. He loved his job, and was exceptionally good at it. His spirit and tenacity in the face of adversity and danger were unswerving and his sense of humour and love for life was apparent in everything he did.

He was an exceptional Commando, and he was blessed with a truly engaging personality that endeared him to all. Hugely popular within the company, his natural and infectious sense of humour always meant that he was at the centre of company banter.

Marine Laski was a ferociously loyal Royal Marine, dedicated to his friends and to the Corps, and that is how he will best be remembered. His loss will be felt deeply by all.

A Strategy for Afghanistan - Washington Post

By Henry A. Kissinger

The Obama administration faces dilemmas familiar to several of its predecessors. America cannot withdraw from Afghanistan now, but neither can it sustain the strategy that brought us to this point.

The stakes are high. Victory for the Taliban in Afghanistan would give a tremendous shot in the arm to jihadism globally -- threatening Pakistan with jihadist takeover and possibly intensifying terrorism in India, which has the world's third-largest Muslim population. Russia, China and Indonesia, which have all been targets of jihadist Islam, could also be at risk.

Heretofore, America has pursued traditional anti-insurgency tactics: to create a central government, help it extend its authority over the entire country and, in the process, bring about a modern bureaucratic and democratic society.

That strategy cannot succeed in Afghanistan -- especially not as an essentially solitary effort. The country is too large, the territory too forbidding, the ethnic composition too varied, the population too heavily armed. No foreign conqueror has ever succeeded in occupying Afghanistan. Even attempts to establish centralized Afghan control have rarely succeeded and then not for long. Afghans seem to define their country in terms of a common dedication to independence but not to unitary or centralized self-government.

The truism that the war is, in effect, a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan population is valid enough in concept. The low standard of living of much of the population has been exacerbated by 30 years of civil war. The economy is on the verge of sustaining itself through the sale of narcotics. There is no significant democratic tradition. Reform is a moral necessity. But the time scale for reform is out of sync with the requirements of anti-guerrilla warfare. Reform will require decades; it should occur as a result of, and even side by side with, the attainment of security -- but it cannot be the precondition for it.

The military effort will inevitably unfold at a pace different from the country's political evolution. Immediately, however, we are able to make sure that our aid efforts, now diffuse and inefficient, are coherent and relevant to popular needs. And much greater emphasis should be given to local and regional entities.

Military strategy should concentrate on preventing the emergence of a coherent, contiguous state within the state controlled by jihadists. In practice, this would mean control of Kabul and the Pashtun area. A jihadist base area on both sides of the mountainous Afghan-Pakistani border would become a permanent threat to hopes for a moderate evolution and to all of Afghanistan's neighbors. Gen. David Petraeus has argued that, reinforced by the number of American forces he has recommended, he should be able to control the 10 percent of Afghan territory where, in his words, 80 percent of the military threat originates. This is the region where the "clear, hold and build" strategy that had success in Iraq is particularly applicable.

In the rest of the country, our military strategy should be more fluid, aimed at forestalling the emergence of terrorist strong points. It should be based on close cooperation with local chiefs and coordination with their militias to be trained by U.S. forces -- the kind of strategy that proved so successful in Anbar province, the Sunni stronghold in Iraq. This is a plausible approach, though it seems improbable that the 17,000 reinforcements President Obama recently committed are enough. In the end, the fundamental issue is not so much how the war will be conducted but how it will be ended. Afghanistan is almost the archetypal international problem requiring a multilateral solution for a political framework to emerge. In the 19th century, formal neutrality was sometimes negotiated to impose a standstill on interventions in and from strategically located countries. This provided a framework for defusing day-to-day international relations. (Belgian neutrality, for example, was not challenged for nearly 100 years.) Is it possible to devise a modern equivalent?

In Afghanistan, such an outcome is achievable only if its principal neighbors agree on a policy of restraint and opposition to terrorism. Their recent conduct argues against such prospects. Yet history should teach them that unilateral efforts at dominance are likely to fail in the face of countervailing intervention by other outside actors. To explore such a vision, the United States should propose a working group of Afghanistan's neighbors, India and the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council. Such a group should be charged with assisting in the reconstruction and reform of Afghanistan and establishing principles for the country's international status and obligations to oppose terrorist activities. Over time, America's unilateral military efforts can merge with the diplomatic efforts of this group. As the strategy envisaged by Petraeus succeeds, the prospects for a political solution along these lines would grow correspondingly.

The precondition for such a policy is cooperation with Russia and Pakistan. With respect to Russia, it requires a clear definition of priorities, especially a choice between partnership or adversarial conduct insofar as it depends on us.

The conduct of Pakistan will be crucial. Pakistan's leaders must face the fact that continued toleration of the sanctuaries -- or continued impotence with respect to them -- will draw their country ever deeper into an international maelstrom. If the jihadists were to prevail in Afghanistan, Pakistan would surely be the next target -- as is observable by activity already taking place along the existing borders and in the Swat Valley close to Islamabad. If that were to happen, the affected countries would need to consult each other about the implications of the nuclear arsenal of a Pakistan being engulfed or even threatened by jihadists. Like every country engaged in Afghanistan, Pakistan has to make decisions that will affect its international position for decades.

Other countries, especially our NATO allies, face comparable choices. Symbolically, the participation of NATO partners is significant. But save for some notable exceptions, public support for military operations is negligible in almost all NATO countries. It is possible, of course, that Obama's popularity in Europe can modify these attitudes -- but probably to only a limited extent. The president would have to decide how far he will carry the inevitable differences and face the reality that disagreements concern fundamental questions of NATO's future and reach. Improved consultation would ease this process. It is likely to turn out, however, that the differences are not procedural. We may then conclude that an enhanced NATO contribution to Afghanistan's reconstruction is more useful than a marginal military effort constrained by caveats. But if NATO turns into an alliance a la carte in this manner, a precedent that can cut both ways would be set. Those who tempt a U.S. withdrawal by their indifference or irresolution evade the prospect that it would be the prelude to a long series of accelerating and escalating crises.

President Obama said Tuesday night that he "will not allow terrorists to plot against the American people from safe havens halfway around the world." Whatever strategy his team selects needs to be pursued with determination. It is not possible to hedge against failure by half-hearted execution.

MP experiences life on the front line for Worthing Marine in Afghanistan

WORTHING West MP Peter Bottomley saw what it is like for British service personnel on the front line in Afghanistan.
Click on the view gallery link to see larger versions of the photographs.

Mr Bottomley was offered the chance to visit Helmand Province and Kandahar, by Defence Secretary John Hutton MP, and met Worthing Marine Gordon Bebner.

He said: "I was glad to see the remarkable achievements of the British service personnel with NATO partners and the Afghan National Army.

"I thanked local Marine Gordon Bebner for looking after me and for sharing his tent accommodation on my arrival in Helmand province."

Mr Bottomley flew by RAF C17 Globemaster, arriving Camp Bastion early Tuesday, February 10, departing Kandahar around midnight Wednesday, February 11 by RAF Tristar.

Band of brothers serve in Helmand - BBC

A real-life band of brothers have returned safely from Afghanistan where they have been serving together.

Lewis, Liam and Sam Arthey, from Whitstable, Kent served together in Helmand province in the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales's Royal Regiment.

The Army has said it is very unusual for three brothers to serve in the same regiment, battalion and company.

Liam, 20, and Sam, 18, were in Helmand for four months, while 22-year-old Lewis joined them for two months.

They said that in one incident, Liam was in an armoured vehicle which was blown up while it was travelling in convoy.

"He had just left the location where Sam was based," said L/Cpl Lewis.

"They were all chatting and talking, then Liam got in the Viking and they went down the road and Sam heard the explosion."

Sam's sergeant took a group of soldiers to the scene, but would not allow him to go in case his brother was hurt.

"Thankfully everyone was OK, but they didn't know that," said Pte Liam.

"There were two casualties and I was in that vehicle, but luckily it wasn't me."

The regiment, known as The Tigers, is based in Canterbury and draws many of its soldiers from Kent.

The trio, who were serving together in a body of 100 men, said that being together helped them cope with the pressure of being in the theatre of war.

"Once, we were all in this compound and Liam's platoon came in and we spent the day together," said Pte Sam.

"That was good - just sitting around sharing stories.

"It is really good to see your brother."

Pte Liam added: "If you have been in a gunfight and you know they have as well you get a sense of relief when you see them and you know they are OK."

The brothers, who all attended the Community College in Whitstable, arrived home on Friday at the start of a four-week period of leave.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Royal Marine dies of wounds sustained in Afghanistan

It is with deepest regret that the Ministry of Defence has confirmed the death of a Royal Marine from 45 Commando Royal Marines today, Wednesday 25 February 2009, in Selly Oak Hospital, Birmingham.

He died as a result of wounds sustained from enemy fire whilst on a reassurance patrol in near Sangin in Northern Helmand on Monday 23 February.

He received immediate medical attention both on the ground and at the ISAF medical facility at Kandahar Airfield, prior to being returned to the UK for further specialist treatment.

Spokesperson for Task Force Helmand, Commander Paula Rowe, said

"The death of this brave Marine is a tragedy and his loss will be felt deeply by his family, friends and all those who served alongside him. We extend our deepest sympathy, thoughts and prayers to them at this terrible time."

The Royal Marine's next of kin have been informed and have asked for a period of grace before further details are released.

Three soldiers from 1 RIFLES killed in Afghanistan

It is with great sadness that the Ministry of Defence must announce that three soldiers from 1st Battalion The Rifles have been killed in Afghanistan today, Wednesday 25 February 2009. The soldiers died from wounds sustained as a result of an enemy explosion during an escort operation in the Gereshk district of Helmand province this morning.

The Medical Emergency Response Team helicopter was called, but sadly the soldiers were all pronounced dead by the doctor in the helicopter.

Spokesperson for Task Force Helmand, Commander Paula Rowe, said:

"Today has been incredibly sad for the whole of Task Force Helmand, and particularly for The Rifles.

"We will all feel the loss of these brave soldiers, whose role was to build the capacity of the Afghan National Army. But it is their family, friends and loved ones, as well as the men and women who served alongside them, who feel the greatest pain and we offer them our deepest and heartfelt condolences, thoughts and prayers."

Next of kin have been informed and have asked for a period of grace before further details are released.

Royal Engineers destroy munitions in Helmand

Members of 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) have recently assisted the Afghan National Army and Police in destroying nearly 70 items of dangerous, unexploded munitions in a series of controlled explosions.

The disposal of the munitions took place at the police headquarters in Lashkar Gah and at the Kandahar Gate area on the outskirts of the town.

The Afghan National Security Forces operating in this area have been increasingly successful at seizing and finding weapons, munitions and unexploded ordnance, items which are used by the insurgency and are also legacy items from previous conflicts.

As part of continuing efforts to make these items safe, the British Royal Engineers were called in to assist in the destruction of the more dangerous and unstable items.

The items included 107mm rockets, mortar shells, anti-vehicle and anti-personnel mines, rocket-propelled grenade warheads and propellant, recoilless-rifle rounds and projectiles. Some were in an advanced state of disrepair, rusty and damaged, so it was not safe for them to be moved; they were therefore made safe in place.

Afghan National Security Forces provided a security cordon in the area to keep the local population at a safe distance while the Royal Engineers carefully moved the most unstable items to a safe area of the headquarters compound before destroying them.

Lance Corporal Thomas Watson, 33 Engineer Regiment, said:

"These items could have caused some severe injuries or death to anyone. Even in the places where local people are lucky enough to know that unexploded ordnance exists, having to steer clear prevents rural workers from farming their land - making their lives even more difficult.

"By helping to remove these devices, not only do we keep people safe and prevent them being used against us but we also help to win the hearts and minds of local people."

To prevent disturbing the area with further explosions, the remaining items, which were safe enough to be moved, were loaded by Afghan and British forces into vehicles and driven to the Kandahar Gate area of Lashkar Gah where they were then destroyed.

Captain Ben Sinclair, 33 Engineer Regiment, said:

"The Afghan Security Forces are increasingly having to deal with these potentially deadly weapons and unexploded munitions to protect the local population and we were happy to assist them in the safe destruction of nearly 70 items.

"These sorts of munitions were old, damaged and unstable - they posed a significant threat to local civilians who could easily have come across them during their normal daily business. In addition, such weapons could have been used by the insurgency in the form of IEDs [improvised explosive devices] - the sort of indiscriminate tactics which have been killing and maiming Afghan and ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] security forces but, all too often, Afghan civilians too.

"Developing the capability of the Afghan Security Forces to deal with IEDs and unexploded ordnance forms part of the long-term strategy for Helmand, working with them in this sort of activity is a key part of that process."

Helmand hospitals benefit from refurbishment

Two Helmand hospitals have reopened following refurbishment by Afghan contractors and International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) engineers in projects overseen by British Military Stabilisation Support Teams.

Gereshk Hospital has been entirely rewired, providing a new mains electrical supply. New power generators and a new water supply system have been fitted to improve the conditions in the hospital and the quality of care it can provide to its patients.

In addition, a specialist waste incinerator was supplied and shipped to the hospital to allow the safe and hygienic destruction of medical waste.

Warrant Officer Class 2 (WO2) Dove, of the Gereshk Military Stabilisation and Support Team, said:

"It is extremely rewarding to see projects such as these move from the drawing board to actual construction, knowing that they will help the local population in the future. There are always projects ongoing and it's great to be involved in one of the key reasons that we are out here."

Bost Hospital in Lashkar Gah has also undergone a similar refurbishment with newly fitted cubicles to provide greater patient privacy. Conditions within the hospital have been further improved by the addition of new water supply and air conditioning systems complemented by a new electrical supply and wiring.

Recently, new beds, mattresses and laboratory equipment were provided along with other supplies of essential medical equipment donated by Estonia and delivered by ISAF forces.

The ISAF military engineers worked closely with the local government structures and civil ministries on the projects, developing designs and overseeing the projects through design to construction and the eventual completion and handover to local Afghan authorities.

The British Military Stabilisation Support Teams have been providing support in each of the provincial towns to assist with projects such as these.

Their approach is not for ISAF to complete the work themselves, but to help the local government structures develop the project from start to finish, involving local contractors, setting up cash-for-work schemes and correctly managing the project. Through such work, local structures and skills are developed, providing invaluable experience for the future.

David Miliband: The army alone cannot defeat this Taliban insurgency

We need to co-opt those ready to give up violence and renounce al-Qa'ida

Nobody I talked to in Afghanistan last week wants a return to Taliban rule. Afghans cherish the opportunity to live a life of their own choosing and the chance to govern themselves.

But Afghans fear an enduring stalemate. The Taliban are too weak to fight Afghan and coalition forces in a conventional confrontation while Afghan institutions are not yet sufficiently rooted to drive out the Taliban's guerrilla warfare.

It is in this context that we welcome President Obama's decision to deploy a further 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. The threat of terrorist attack on our soil remains real. Al-Qa'ida is still hiding on these borders, co-opting the Taliban and tribesmen. The US commitment, alongside us and 40 other nations, is a signal of their long term determination

Our armed forces, diplomats and aid workers, operating in extraordinarily difficult terrain, continue to make a huge difference. Their unflinching courage and professionalism is a credit to this country. Over the past year in Helmand, they've helped double the number of districts under Afghan government control. Opium cultivation is down, the legal Afghan economy is growing, and many more people have access to basic healthcare and schools.

But as we have long argued, there is no purely military solution to the insurgency. Unless it is aligned with a clear political and economic strategy, military might will only force the Taliban further underground, or encourage them to play a waiting game.

Defeating the insurgency means understanding it, and being clearer about the forms it takes. The insurgency is not drawn from a single organisation, nor is it fighting for a single cause. There are ideological Taliban, ten-dollar-a- day Taliban, fighters from beyond the region, criminals, narco-traffickers, warlords and wannabe power-brokers. And all of them rely on the acquiesence of some ordinary citizens, who despite dreading the Taliban's return, doubt the capacity of the state to protect them, so hedge their bets.

Our strategy is to help the Afghan government divide the insurgency, and co-opt those prepared to renounce al-Qa'ida, give up violence, and accept the Afghan constitution. This means countering insurgents in different ways.

If we want ordinary Afghans to deny the Taliban support and sanctuary, we need to give them confidence in their state. We must build the capacity – especially the national army, the police and the judiciary – and help the government provide for its people.

When it comes to those who have aligned themselves with the Taliban not for safety and lack of choice, but rather for power and influence, we need incentives and sanctions. They need to know that if they renounce violence and accept the rule of law, there are legitimate opportunities for them. And if they do not accept the constitution, they will be pursued relentlessly by military forces.

Then of course there are the more extreme elements of the insurgency; the hard-line ideologues determined to reject the authority of the legitimate state, prepared to fight to the end. There are the small numbers of foreign fighters. For both these groups, the only response is confrontation by the coalition and the Afghan forces. There has, in the last year, been attrition in these groups' ranks on both sides of the border.

On Wednesday I went to the Khyber Pass. The ease with which insurgents can move across the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan is a massive problem. American determination to look at Afghanistan and Pakistan together is a great step forward. With intimate connections between the insurgency in Kunar and the militancy in Waziristan, between the criminals, spoilers and terrorists in Lashkar Gah and Quetta, in Peshawar and Nangahar, Afghanistan can never be safe unless the Pakistani militancy is addressed.

Out of the loss of life to terrorism in Pakistan, the danger of spreading talebanisation, the summary executions and the school demolitions, is emerging a growing acceptance within Pakistan's elite that violent extremism is the greatest threat the country faces. We need to support the democratically elected government and its military forces in rooting out the extremism on its soil and developing a joint approach with the Afghan authorities.

Afghanistan is a test of the resolve of Nato and the broader international alliance. More troops will never be enough to enforce stability across the country. But by pressuring those who refuse to cooperate with the Afghan state, and protecting those who do, military force can directly support a political solution.

This is the only way to build a safe and secure Afghanistan. And it is the best way to ensure that the Taliban do not return to power, and that the country cannot, once again, become a haven for those who seek to do us harm.

The writer is the Foreign Secretary

UK medics giving frontline help - BBC

A team of medics and nurses who usually treat injured soldiers flown back to the UK are in Afghanistan helping to save the lives of frontline troops.

Five from the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine in Birmingham are at a field hospital at Camp Bastion, the UK's main military base in Helmand province.

Leading Naval Nurse Sarah Butler said she wanted to understand what soldiers experienced before going to the centre.

The 26-year-old said she had "seen both sides of the coin now".

'Emergency care'

The Royal Centre for Defence Medicine is at Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham.

Miss Butler, who is originally from Leeds, said: "I was seeing them as they came back and I thought I was being a bit of a fraud."

Miss Butler, who has been at the centre for more than a year, said the job in Afghanistan was "completely different" to working at the centre.

"Here the patients are flown out quite soon after the injury so they are still not taking in what is happening," she said.

"It's a completely different job but it's good that I can advise them what it's like when they get back to Birmingham."

Medical assistant Georgina Francis said coming to Afghanistan had given her the chance to see first-hand what soldiers go through before arriving in Birmingham.

The 24-year-old, originally from Romsey, Hampshire, said: "Seeing them as they come through the doors is different to seeing them back home when they are stable.

"The emergency care the lads get here is brilliant."

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Extra US troops to be deployed fast to Afghanistan: NATO

Around 17,000 extra US troops earmarked for Afghanistan will deploy as fast as possible and thousands more are requested for August elections, the deputy NATO force commander here said Monday.

The reinforcements, approved by US President Barack Obama last week, will head mainly to the southern provinces of Helmand, Kandahar and Zabul although details were being finalised, Lieutenant General Jim Dutton told reporters.

They will secure the border with Pakistan and "thicken up the force ratios in those areas where the insurgency is still at its most virulent," the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) deputy commander said.

"There are lots of pretty stable pockets in both those areas. What we have not managed to do is to join them up to widen and deepen the security to allow complete freedom of movement," the British soldier said.

An extra 120 helicopters, which have also been approved, will provide extra mobility to the troops and prove "game-changing", he said.

There are already about 70,000 foreign troops in Afghanistan, in ISAF and a separate US-led coalition, helping to fight against a Taliban-led insurgency that saw record attacks last year and to build up Afghan security forces.

ISAF commander US General David McKiernan had asked for reinforcements of 17,000, Dutton said, despite reports that up to 30,000 were needed.

They will arrive "basically as fast as they can reasonably be deployed here", he said.

ISAF has also asked contributing nations for more soldiers and helicopters to secure presidential elections due in August.

"We are probably talking about thousands (of soldiers) but not many thousands," he said. "This is to provide some extra mobile forces available on one day, maybe two days, to provide security should it be required."

"We are confident here that we will get what we have asked for," Dutton said. Finland and Germany are among nations that have already pledged troops for the vote, Afghanistan's second presidential election.

The commander said there had been a "considerable downturn" in insurgent activity in the east in the past three months that may be linked to increased Pakistan pressure on rebel bases.

The east and south have been the main battlefields in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 ousted the Taliban regime for sheltering Al-Qaeda.

Convoys face Taliban bombs but are vital link to the front line

By Matt Jackson

Defence correspondent in Camp Bastion, Afghanistan

As they clambered down from dust-clad vehicles, the men and women of the Combat Logistic Patrol breathed a deep sigh of relief.
Their giant lorry convoy, stretching five kilometres from front to end, had just wound its way back to Bastion from Garments in the south of Helmand Province without once suffering attack.

Travelling at a slow pace for more than 36 hours, sailors and Marines had completed a 140-mile round trip that carries deadly risk.

This drop-off to a Forward Operating Base was carried out by the Marines' Commando Logistics Regiment, which features dozens of men and women from The News area.

The convoy routes are heavily mined by Afghan insurgents, and this patrol was no different.

Chief Petty Officer Andy Whitehorse, 37, from Gosport, pictured below, used to be an instructor at HMS Collingwood, Fareham.

He said: 'It's a supremely dangerous thing to do when you consider how slow the convoy moves and how large it is.

'Imagine a giant herd of cattle and you get the idea of how easily it can be seen, and that's why we have loads of force protection personnel.

'We have the Mastiff vehicles which are practically bomb-proof, and each vehicle has a machine gun mount to provide covering fire.'

Major Marcus Taylor, who led the convoy, said his troops had to remain vigilant.

He said: 'The credit has to go to the guys and girls who go through this, they're the ones who make sure the bases are replenished and enable those at the front line to keep carrying the fight.

'There's plenty of attention for the guys in the forward bases but without these runs they can't continue.

'We are coming to the end of our time here but that doesn't mean for a second that we will let up – the Taliban don't have an end of tour date.'

After completing their marathon journey through the desert home of civilians and insurgents alike, the personnel have to clear dust from every part of their vehicles.

Twenty-two-year-old Engineering Technician Matt Holloway is now a driver on the convoys.

The former weapons engineer on the Portsmouth-based warship HMS Lancaster said: 'The vehicles get really hit by the dust as soon as you start, which means you have to keep them well-maintained.

'It's a really different experience from being on a ship because you know that you're at risk of dying here, whereas in a ship it feels less intense.

'The Taliban are learning to fight in different ways, so instead of using small arms they are planting the explosives which are harder to spot.'

Monday, February 23, 2009

Al-Qaeda founder launches fierce attack on Osama bin Laden -

One of al-Qaeda's founding leaders, Dr Fadl, has begun an ideological revolt against Osama bin Laden, blaming him for "every drop" of blood spilt in Afghanistan and Iraq.

By David Blair in Cairo

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, who goes by the nom de guerre Dr Fadl, helped bin Laden create al-Qaeda and then led an Islamist insurgency in Egypt in the 1990s.

But in a book written from inside an Egyptian prison, he has launched a frontal attack on al-Qaeda's ideology and the personal failings of bin Laden and particularly his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

Twenty years ago, Dr Fadl became al-Qaeda's intellectual figurehead with a crucial book setting out the rationale for global jihad against the West.

Today, however, he believes the murder of innocent people is both contrary to Islam and a strategic error. "Every drop of blood that was shed or is being shed in Afghanistan and Iraq is the responsibility of bin Laden and Zawahiri and their followers," writes Dr Fadl.

The terrorist attacks on September 11 were both immoral and counterproductive, he writes.

"Ramming America has become the shortest road to fame and leadership among the Arabs and Muslims. But what good is it if you destroy one of your enemy's buildings, and he destroys one of your countries? What good is it if you kill one of his people, and he kills a thousand of yours?" asks Dr Fadl. "That, in short, is my evaluation of 9/11."

He is equally unsparing about Muslims who move to the West and then take up terrorism.

"If they gave you permission to enter their homes and live with them, and if they gave you security for yourself and your money, and if they gave you the opportunity to work or study, or they granted you political asylum," writes Dr Fadl, then it is "not honourable" to "betray them, through killing and destruction".

In particular, Dr Fadl focuses his attack on Zawahiri, a key figure in al-Qaeda's core leadership and a fellow Egyptian whom he has known for 40 years. Zawahiri is a "liar" who was paid by Sudan's intelligence service to organise terrorist attacks in Egypt in the 1990s, he writes.

The criticisms have emerged from Dr Fadl's cell in Tora prison in southern Cairo, where a sand-coloured perimeter wall is lined with watchtowers, each holding a sentry wielding a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Torture inside Egyptian jails is "widespread and systematic", according to Amnesty International.

Zawahiri has alleged that his former comrade was tortured into recanting. But the al-Qaeda leader still felt the need to compose a detailed, 200-page rebuttal of his antagonist.

The fact that Zawahiri went to this trouble could prove the credibility of Dr Fadl and the fact that his criticisms have stung their target. The central question is whether this attack on al-Qaeda's ideology will sway a wider audience in the Muslim world.

Fouad Allam, who spent 26 years in the State Security Directorate, Egypt's equivalent of MI5, said that Dr Fadl's assault on al-Qaeda's core leaders had been "very effective, both in prison and outside".

He added: "Within these secret organisations, leadership is very important. So when someone attacks the leadership from inside, especially personal attacks and character assassinations, this is very bad for them."

A western diplomat in Cairo agreed with this assessment, saying: "It has upset Zawahiri personally. You don't write 200 pages about something that doesn't bother you, especially if you're under some pressure, which I imagine Zawahiri is at the moment."

Dr Fadl was a central figure from the very outset of bin Laden's campaign. He was part of the tight circle which founded al-Qaeda in 1988 in the closing stages of the war against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. By then, Dr Fadl was already the leader of Egyptian Islamic Jihad, an extremist movement which fought the Cairo regime until its defeat in the 1990s.

Dr Fadl fled to Yemen, where he was arrested after September 11 and transferred to Egypt, where he is serving a life sentence. "He has the credibility of someone who has really gone through the whole system," said the diplomat. "Nobody's questioning the fact that he was the mentor of Zawahiri and the ideologue of Egyptian Islamic Jihad."

Terrorist movements across the world have a history of alienating their popular support by waging campaigns of indiscriminate murder. This process of disintegration often begins with a senior leader publicly denouncing his old colleagues. Dr Fadl's missives may show that al-Qaeda has entered this vital stage.

10,000 British troops to be fighting Taliban in Afghanistan within 12 months - Telegraph

More than 10,000 British troops will be fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan within 12 months.
By Sean Rayment, Defence Correspondent

Defence chiefs believe the 8,300 troops currently serving in the south of the country need to be bolstered by an extra battle group of between 1,500 and 1,800 men within a year.

The deployment will push the Britain's Armed Forces to the very limit of its fighting capability and will raise fears that the entire operation has now fallen victim to "mission creep".

It is understood that the Army's top generals have given their support for the plan and are now awaiting approval from the Treasury and other areas of government.

The so-called "mini-surge" has been ordered in a direct response to a decision by President Barack Obama to send an extra 17,000 combat troops to counter the growing threat posed by the Taliban.

Although the figure was less than the 30,000 which had been called for by the US military, defence sources believe the move has sent a direct message to the US's and Britain's Nato partners that they must do more to help win the war in Afghanistan.

The new British battle group will consist of an infantry battalion, composed of around 700 troops, bolstered by at least one rifle company of 120 troops. The force will be supported by signallers, medics, engineers and elements of the Royal Artillery.

The Army has notched up a series of major successes against the Taliban, including the retaking of Musa Qala in northern Helmand, a former insurgent stronghold, as well as the operation to create a functioning hydro-electric power station at Kajaki.

But the much vaunted plans to bring reconstruction to the region have stalled, following the deterioration of security in the province.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) has now increased troops numbers in Helmand every six months since 2006, when just 3,300 troops were sent to southern Afghanistan to secure the area and to allow reconstruction to begin.

John Hutton, the defence secretary, has persistently called on Britain's allies to do more of the "heavy lifting" in Afghanistan but, apart from France, virtually all have refused to do so.

There are around 56,400 Nato troops in Afghanistan and of those 24,900 are from the US. Britain has the second largest contingent with 8,300, followed by Germany which has 3,460, although most of these are based in the relatively peaceful north.

Canada, one of Britain's major allies in southern Afghanistan, has 2,830 troops based in Kandahar province and has lost 108 soldiers in battle. However, the Canadian government confirmed last week that it plans to withdraw all its troops from the country within two years, a move which will create a vacuum that can only really be filled by the US or Britain.

Mr Hutton said last week that he had not yet received any request from the US for extra troops but added that UK force levels were kept under constant review.

He said: "We haven't received any such request yet, and we obviously keep our force levels in Afghanistan under literally constant review, because we have an obligation… a duty of care, if you like, to make sure that our operations are being conducted as safely as possible; and if there's a need, either for more troops or for more equipment, obviously we look very, very seriously at that."

The arrival of the extra battle group will follow the deployment of a special 300-strong force of bomb disposal troops, which is expected to arrive in Afghanistan in the next few weeks. Details of the deployment are to be announced by Mr Hutton in Parliament next month.

It is understood that extra ammunition technical officers (ATOs), who specialise in bomb disposal, will work closely with troops from the Intelligence Corps to try and discover supply routes of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) into Helmand and the location of bomb factories.

Taliban IED attacks now account for around 70 to 80 per cent of all casualties suffered by British troops, according to defence sources.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

NATO Allies Offer Support for Afghans - New York Times

KRAKOW, Poland — NATO defense ministers concluded two days of talks here on Friday amid indications that few allies were willing to offer significant numbers of additional combat troops for Afghanistan, but that some might seek to compensate by deploying more civilians to train local security forces and build the country’s economy.

The announcement this week that the Obama administration would send 17,000 more American troops to Afghanistan by summer was met with formal offers from allies of a few hundred additional troops of their own.

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates, speaking at the end of the session, stressed the importance of having enough troops on the ground to guarantee that national elections in Afghanistan, now set for August, are safe and credible.

He went out of his way to compliment a handful of countries that, like the United States, have contributed troops and civilian development teams. But in a tacit acknowledgment that other countries would be unwilling or unable to send more combat forces, Mr. Gates appealed for them to send civilians to carry out important, noncombat development tasks.

NATO’s supreme allied commander, Gen. John Craddock, said he left the session optimistic that two to three additional battalions — totaling perhaps a few thousand troops in all — would be sent by allies in time for the elections.

General Craddock said that one option under consideration was for countries whose troops are now assigned to the NATO rapid reaction force, which is not deployed, to send those forces to Afghanistan for duty before and during the elections.

In an interview, General Craddock said the alliance’s new counternarcotics policies were showing results. Under plans now being put into effect, NATO military forces can attack drug lords, drug factories and traffickers if they are helping to finance the insurgency.

General Craddock said that in recent weeks four operations had been carried out to destroy 11 laboratories, with narcotics valued at $500 million.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

British Muslims 'providing Taliban with electronic devices for roadside bombs' - Telegraph

British Muslims are providing the Taliban with electronic devices to make roadside bombs for use in attacks against British forces serving in southern Afghanistan, The Telegraph can disclose.British Muslims are providing the Taliban with electronic devices to make roadside bombs for use in attacks against British forces serving in southern Afghanistan, The Telegraph can disclose.

The devices, which enable Taliban fighters to detonate roadside bombs by remote control, are either sent to sympathizers in the region, or carried by volunteers who fly to Pakistan and then make their way across the border.

Details of how British electronic components have been found in roadside bombs were given to David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, when he visited British troops at their military compound at Lashkagar, in Helmand province, earlier this week.
In a briefing on British operations in southern Afghanistan by Brigadier Gordon Messenger, the Royal Marine commander of the British battlegroup, Mr Miliband was shown examples of the crude, home-made devices that are being used in attacks against British patrols.

They included mobile phones filled with explosives, which could kill or seriously injure British soldiers patrolling on foot, and more sophisticated devices that can be used against military vehicles.

Explosives experts who have examined the devices say they have found British-made electronic components that enable Taliban insurgents to detonate their home-made, road-side bombs by remote control.

The electronic devices smuggled into Afghanistan from Britain range from basic remote control units that are normally used to fly model airplanes to more advanced components that enable insurgents to conduct attacks from up to a mile away from British patrols.

"We have found electronic components in devices used to target British troops that originally come from Britain," a British explosives officer told Mr Miliband during a detailed briefing on the type of improvised explosive device (IED) used against British forces.

When asked how the components had reached Afghanistan, the officer explained that they had either been sent from Britain, or physically brought to Afghanistan by British Muslims who had flown over.

The disclosure is the latest in a string of suggestions from British commanders about the connections between British Muslims and violence in Afghanistan.

In August, Brigadier Ed Butler, the former commander of UK forces in Afghanistan, told the Telegraph that there are "British passport holders" in the Taliban ranks. Other officers believe their soldiers have killed British Muslims fighting alongside the Taliban.

And last year, it was revealed that RAF Nimrod surveillance planes monitoring Taliban radio signals in Afghanistan had heard militants speaking with Yorkshire and Midlands accents.

British commanders have recorded a significant rise in the use of IEDs during the past two years, partly the result of the success British forces have recorded in defeating the Taliban in conventional attacks.

"We've really hit the Taliban hard, and the only way they can respond is to rely more heavily on IEDs and similar weapons," said a British officer.

The number of IED attacks against British forces has risen from an average of 27 percent of attacks in 2007 to an estimated 55 percent so far this year. A significant proportion of the 145 British service personnel killed on active duty in Afghanistan have been killed by improvised roadside bombs.

British military officers say the devices used in Afghanistan are not as sophisticated as those used against British forces in Iraq, and that Taliban insurgents need to be able to physically monitor British patrols when carrying out attack.

Details of the British link to IEDs were provided to Mr Miliband during his 48-hour fact-finding mission to Afghanistan earlier this week where he met military and government officials to assess the level of progress being made by British and coalition forces as the current military deployment enters its fourth year.

British officials are expected to come under pressure from U.S. President Barack Obama to add to the 8,300 British service personnel currently serving in Afghanistan as Washington prepares to undertake a military surge similar to the one that was so successful in Iraq.

Mr Obama has already pledged to send an extra 17,000 U.S. troops to Afghanistan this year, and he is now expected to pressure other Nato countries – including Britain – to follow suit.

The original 2001 Western invasion of Afghanistan was triggered by al-Qaeda's September 11 attacks on the US.
The Taliban regime in Kabul had sheltered the al-Qaeda leadership, which is now based in the lawless Afghan-Pakistan border region.

Some Western intelligence agencies believe Osama bin Laden's group is now able to operate largely freely in the area.
However, bin Laden is facing an ideological revolt by one of al-Qaeda's founding leaders who blames, blaming him for "every drop" of blood spilt in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, who goes by the nom de guerre Dr Fadl, helped bin Laden create al-Qaeda and then led an Islamist insurgency in Egypt in the 1990s. But after a change of heart, he has launched a public denunciation of the group.

His latest book, which has been serialised in newspapers across the Arab world, amounts to a frontal attack on al-Qaeda's ideology and on the personal failings of bin Laden and his Egyptian deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

'Strategic stalemate' in Afghanistan?

The commander of British forces in Helmand tells Channel 4 News it doesn't feel like stalemate to him.

As America announced more troops for the region, the commander of Britain's forces in Helmand has told Channel 4 News he doesn't agree - and says many Afghans wouldn't either.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Commandos target drugs labs where Taleban and mafias reap $100m profits - Times

The Taleban insurgency has fused with narcotic mafias in British-controlled Helmand province, sparking a Colombian-style drug war, officials in Kabul said yesterday.

Faced by the growing menace British Forces brushed aside longstanding unease over direct involvement in counter-narcotics this week, mounting their first big operation explicitly targeting drugs labs in the province.

Operation Diesel, which involved 800 British commandos and Special Forces, secured drugs from what officials said were processing labs linked to the Taleban. The drugs were worth $6million (£4million) at their source and much more on the streets of America and Europe. US officials estimate that the Afghan insurgents are now making up to $100million a year from drugs trafficking.

An Afghan government official involved in counter-narcotics told The Times: “Helmand is now just a criminal province, it is a Colombia situation. It is producing 60 to 70 per cent of Afghan opium. There are major international criminal groups processing and trafficking there.”

Officials were surprised by the violent backlash that met an attempted drug eradication campaign launched two weeks ago in what was previously one of the few openly pro-government areas of Helmand.

On two occasions the Afghan police and army force sent into Nawa and Nad Ali districts had to call for “in extremis” support from Nato jets, the first time Nato aircraft have dropped munitions to support what is theoretically a criminal rather than a military operation in the country.

The fierce resistance encountered by the troops has left officials wondering whether the violence is primarily Taleban-inspired or if a majority of local farmers are also now fighting the eradication forces. “The traffickers and the Taleban want a destabilised Government,” the Afghan official involved with counter-narcotics said. “They are going to have to be taken on. Nato forces must start doing that. We've seen General Craddock saying that and being criticised. This is the first major Nato-led operation, some nations are going to be against that, but they are living in yesteryear.”

The commander of Nato forces in Europe, General Craddock, said that the Taleban were making $100million a year from drugs trafficking and told the Munich Security Conference on February 9 that Nato operations against major drug lords would begin “within days”. It follows serious internal rifts within Nato, including reported opposition from Italy, Spain and Germany, to the use of Nato forces against narco-criminals. A Nato spokesman insisted that such operations could only take place where there was evidence linking the narco-traffickers to the insurgents.

“We want to show that eradication will not go away,” one Western diplomat said. “We must make sure that what we are doing doesn't have a detrimental effect. We do not want a situation where we end up with more instability than we started with. We want eradication to help the governor to build a stable province.”

Local people in Nad Ali said that Taleban militants were setting themselves up as defenders of the local populace, exploiting anger after Nad Ali and Nawa districts were the only areas of Helmand to suffer poppy eradication during the past three years. This was largely because their pro-Government standing made them one of the few areas Government eradication teams could enter.

“The people have joined with the Taleban,” said Abdul Ahad Helmandwal, the head of the Nad Ali district council of elders. “They are supporting the Taleban because the Taleban have promised to defend the poppy. I am saying this only because the Government has for the past three years eradicated Nad Ali and Nawa and not the other areas of the province.”

Other local people, speaking by telephone from Nad Ali, said that the Taleban forbade them to grow wheat that was to be distributed by the British Government in November under an “alternative livelihood” scheme. A Taleban commander from Nawa admitted that the insurgents' increasing access to smuggling profits and tax receipts from poppy cultivation was undermining their ideological foundations and turning the Islamist militancy into a criminal enterprise.

“Before, the Quetta Shura [the Taleban's high command based in Pakistan] gave money to the big leaders in Helmand not to the small commanders. Now the small commanders get money from poppy, from road blocks and from stealing,” said the man, an older commander who asked not to be named. “Everyone is working for themselves. This fight is not for Islam it is all for money,” he said.

The rise of a drug-dependent insurgency in Helmand where the Taleban are active contrasts with the rest of Afghanistan. Opium production is expected to decline 40 per cent this year, with as many as 22 of 34 provinces likely to be drug free. Western officials attribute the progress to a switch to legal crops caused by rises in wheat prices and a slump in the opium price due to overproduction in Afghanistan.

Georgia to send 100 soldiers to Afghanistan

Georgia's foreign minister says the ex-Soviet nation will send 100 soldiers to Afghanistan to serve alongside U.S. and NATO forces.

Grigol Vashadze says in comments broadcast by Georgia's Rustavi television that soldiers will be deployed in the near future. Vashadze spoke during a trip to Krakow, Poland, where he's attending a meeting of NATO defense ministers.

Georgian Defense Ministry spokeswoman Rusiko Simakuridze said Thursday that the deployment's date will be announced soon.

Georgia, a U.S. ally, contributed 2,000 soldiers to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq. They were withdrawn last August amid a war with Russia.

Georgia briefly deployed 50 soldiers to Afghanistan in 2004 and sent troops to a NATO-led peacekeeping mission in Kosovo.

Hutton backs US Nato troops call - BBC

John Hutton has told the BBC Europe "needs to do more" to provide troops in the toughest areas of Afghanistan.

Echoing US calls, the defence secretary said it was not fair the US was doing "all the heavy lifting".

Britain was already punching "above our weight" and had not been asked for more troops so it was for "others" to contribute more first, he said.

Speaking ahead of a Nato meeting in Poland, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates urged allies to increase troops.

US President Barack Obama said he would deploy an additional 17,000 US soldiers in Afghanistan - bringing total US troops in the country to more than 50,000.

Burden sharing

Mr Hutton told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The ball is absolutely in Europe's court now and we need to pick it up if we are going to be seen to be responsible, effective allies of the US who are doing all the heavy lifting in Afghanistan."

He said the extra US troops would help improve security - which was crucial if progress was to be made on the political front and with reconstruction.

And he said it would "highlight" the controversy over Europe's contribution to the military effort in Afghanistan.

"Our view has always been very clear - that Nato needs to do more, the European members of Nato need to do more.

"There needs to be a a fairer burden sharing of responsibility, particularly in those really hard areas where what we need are combat forces."

He said there were 30,000 European troops in Afghanistan and Nato had begun to develop a clear response to the threat posed by "international jihadist extremists" - but needed to look at "what more we can do."

Asked if a troop shortage had hampered progress, he said: "I think that's probably right."

Nato members offer Afghan support - BBC

Up to 20 Nato countries have offered to boost their civilian, military or training commitments to Afghanistan, US defence secretary Robert Gates says.

At a meeting of Nato defence ministers in Poland, he said the alliance faced a tough test in Afghanistan but he was convinced it could meet the challenge.

The US is sending an extra 17,000 troops to Afghanistan and has been pressing its allies to do more.

Afghanistan is facing a growing insurgency from Taleban militants.

Mr Gates ended the two-day meeting in Krakow in an upbeat mood, says the BBC's defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt, as he announced the offers of increased commitments.

"Over the last couple of days, 19 or 20 countries announced at one point or another in the meetings that they would be increasing their contribution, either on the civilian or the military or the training side," Mr Gates told reporters.

Some Nato members have been reluctant to contribute more troops to the mission in Afghanistan.

Several European states have caveats preventing their forces being deployed in the most dangerous areas. Some are also constrained by domestic political opposition to the Afghan war.

However, Mr Gates said there was agreement among the 26-member bloc that they must "intensify our efforts to bring security and stability to Afghanistan, and to ensure that the Afghans are capable of sustaining it themselves".

"It is, after all, their country, their fight and their future," he said.

"So I consider that a good start as we begin to look toward the summit [of Nato leaders in April]."

By then, the US is expected to have completed a major review of its policy in Afghanistan.

Moscow chill

Nato has also been examining its own future doctrine, our correspondent says, with secretary general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer saying on Thursday that it needed a new strategic concept to include the new challenges posed by global warming, threats to the energy supply and cyber-attacks.

"The demands on Nato are greater than ever before," he warned.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

David Miliband visit to Afghanistan - FCO

Foreign Secretary David Miliband is in Afghanistan on 16-19 February for a series of meetings with UK staff and local Afghan leaders in the region.

On 17 February he visited Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand Province. While there he met Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal to discuss a wide range of issues.

Later in the day he attended meetings with representatives of the Social and Economic Development Committee and other local council’s of the Nad Ali community. The discussions centered on security, local planning and the day to day challenges of the local community.

UK welcomes US Afghan deployment - BBC

Foreign Secretary David Miliband has welcomed US plans to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan.

Some of the US troops will be deployed in Helmand province, where British and Taleban forces have been involved in fierce fighting.

Mr Miliband, who is visiting British forces in Afghanistan, said the UK had not received a request for more troops.

Britain had no plans to increase its troop numbers beyond the 9,000 already stationed in the country, he added.

Mr Miliband said: "I think that there is a universal recognition that these extra American troops can play, and will play, an important and positive role, when they are aligned and allied with a strategy for economic development and political development.

"In terms of the United Kingdom we represent about 12% of the troops in Afghanistan at the moment. We have had no request to increase our number of troops but of course we always keep the number under review."

'Strategic stalemate'

Mr Miliband flew into Afghanistan as the British death toll in the country continued to rise.

He visited military and civilian staff and held talks with Afghan leaders, including the governor of Helmand, Gulab Mangal, about the fight against the Taleban and the progress of local development.

Last week, Mr Miliband acknowledged that the Taleban's use of terror tactics had created a "strategic stalemate" in parts of the country.

His visit came as the number of British deaths in the Afghan conflict since 2001 grew to 145.

A soldier from 1st Battalion The Rifles died after coming under fire on a foot patrol south of Lashkar Gah in Helmand.

He was the eighth British serviceman to die in Afghanistan so far this year.

'Positive development'

The Foreign Office said Mr Miliband's visit was an opportunity for him to exchange "details and views" with the Afghan government on the military and construction efforts.

"He is keeping abreast of that," a spokesman said. "It is all part of an ongoing discussion with the Afghan government."

US President Barack Obama said the 17,000 extra US troops had been due to go to Iraq but were being redirected to "meet urgent security needs".

It is the first major military decision by the Obama administration, and comes amid a major review of US policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The additional troops are to be sent before warmer weather brings an expected increase in fighting in Afghanistan, US defence officials said.

They will be made up of 8,000 marines, and 4,000 army soldiers, plus another 5,000 support staff. They will serve in the south.

Afghan defence ministry spokesman Mohammad Ishaq Payman told the AFP news agency that the move was a "positive development".

"But we have our own conditions. We want these troops to be deployed in areas where they could play a positive role in suppressing terrorists," he said.

"We want them to be deployed along the border, in eastern, south-eastern and southern parts of the country."

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

British forces in Afghanistan seize £50m of heroin and kill 20 Taliban - Telegraph

Royal Marines seize £50m of heroin in assault on Taliban

HUNDREDS of British commandos launched an assault on Taliban drug warlords, seizing £50million worth of heroin.

For the full article click here

UK troops seize £50m of heroin -

British and Afghan soldiers have seized £50 million worth of heroin and drug making equipment.

Around 700 troops were involved in Operation Diesel which captured four drugs factories in Afghanistan's southern Helmand Province and disrupted facilities making improvised bombs.

The daring raids were carried out raids in the notorious Sangin Valley, which the Ministry of Defence describes as the "Taliban heartland".

Defence Secretary John Hutton praised the bravery of British troops and said the drug seizures would starve the Taliban of funding and prevent drugs reaching UK streets.

Troops destroyed 1,295kg of wet opium which would have an estimated street value of over £6 million as heroin.

Chemicals used in the manufacture of heroin - ammonium chloride, acetic anhydride, sodium chloride and calcium hydroxide - were also found in quantities sufficient for the production of heroin with an estimated end street value of more than £50 million.

Weapons and ammunition, including AK47 assault rifles, PKM machine guns, numerous ammunition magazines and 3 RPG rocket launchers complete with additional warheads were also seized alongside a motorbike modified for use in a suicide attack.

Operation Diesel aimed to surprise enemy forces in the Sapwan Qualeh area, to disrupt insurgent and narcotics activity and to show that the Task Force and Afghan forces can strike with overpowering force.

Brigadier Gordon Messenger said: "The links between the Taliban and the drugs trade are well proven and we know that the revenue from narcotics production directly funds the insurgency.

"Operation Diesel was a clinical precision strike, supported by strong intelligence, which has had a powerful disruptive effect on known insurgent and narcotics networks in the area.

"The success of the operation is a significant boost to the Afghan authorities in their fight against the drugs trade.

"As a combined Isaf/Afghan team, we will continue to take every opportunity to strike at the linkage between the narcotics trade and the Taliban, the product of which brings so much misery to the Afghan people."

Lance Corporal Stephen Kingscott killed in Afghanistan

It is with deep regret that the Ministry of Defence must confirm the death of Lance Corporal Stephen Kingscott of 1st Battalion The Rifles in Afghanistan on 16 February 2009.

Lance Corporal Kingscott died during the assault of an enemy position during a deliberate operation against insurgents in the Nawa district of Helmand province.

Lance Corporal Stephen 'Schnoz' Kingscott of 1st Battalion The Rifles

Stephen Michael Kingscott was born on 10 July 1986 at the Freedom Fields Hospital in his hometown of Plymouth.

Stephen joined the British Army after gaining seven GCSEs from the John Kitto Community College; he trained at the Army Foundation College, Harrogate, and the Infantry Training Centre, Catterick, before he joined his regiment, 1st Battalion The Devonshire and Dorset Regiment, in Ballykinler, Northern Ireland.

In summer 2006 Lance Corporal Kingscott served in Iraq with 1st Battalion The Devon and Dorset Light Infantry before they were amalgamated into 1st Battalion The Rifles, in which he served in Belize, the Falkland Islands and Afghanistan.

During pre-deployment training for Operation Herrick 9, he was selected for special language training, passing an intensive ten-week Dari course.

In Afghanistan he was employed in the Operational Mentoring and Liaison Team (OMLT) Battle Group, working in one of the small, tight-knit teams that train and fight alongside the Afghan National Army.

Lance Corporal Kingscott was a physically fit individual who enjoyed many sports and represented the battalion in the 1st XI football and cricket teams. When in Afghanistan he could also be found teaching and playing volleyball with the Afghan National Army in the Patrol Base.

Lance Corporal Kingscott was an intelligent, competent, friendly and popular Rifleman who was dedicated to his work, selflessly placing himself in harm's way before his comrades. He was larger than life and would always be the first to raise the morale of his team when the going was tough in southern Helmand.

Once, out patrolling in the Green Zone, his balance failed him whilst tiptoeing over a precarious log bridge, sending him tumbling into one of the many irrigation ditches. Right behind him, his Company Commander, Major Andy Watkins, asked after his well-being.

As a team mate gave him a helping hand out of the water, his reply was simply "I wanted to try out my backstroke, it's getting a little rusty", and with a wry smile continued on with the patrol; testimony to his irrepressible sense of humour and cheerfulness in adversity.

His commitment to those around him was a constant theme noted by his fellow Riflemen, who always found themselves behind Lance Corporal Kingscott when advancing on the enemy.

Obama approves Afghanistan troop increase - CNN

President Barack Obama has approved a significant troop increase for Afghanistan, Pentagon officials said Tuesday.

The new troop deployment is expected to include 8,000 Marines from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, as well as 4,000 additional Army troops from Fort Lewis, Washington.

"This increase is necessary to stabilize a deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, which has not received the strategic attention, direction and resources it urgently requires," Obama said in a written statement.

"The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda supports the insurgency and threatens America from its safe haven along the Pakistani border."

Another 5,000 troops will be deployed at a later date to support combat troops, bringing the total to 17,000 the Defense Department said. A senior administration official confirmed the total.

The Obama administration has been conducting several reviews of U.S. policy in Afghanistan, including a review by Gen. David Petraeus, the commander in the region. The president and the Pentagon have been considering a request from the top commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, to send as many as 30,000 additional troops.

Obama said the troop increase in Afghanistan would be made possible in part by the impending troop drawdown in Iraq.

All 17,000 troops announced Tuesday will go to the southern region of the country where Afghanistan borders Pakistan, with the goal mainly being to stop the flow of foreign fighters, according to a U.S. military official with direct knowledge of the deployment and military plans for Afghanistan.

The troops will also train Afghan army units.

The military operations will set up a string of bases and smaller combat outposts, allowing the troops to move around and engage in counterterrorism against foreign fighters and counterinsurgency operations against the Taliban and other local enemies, the official said.

The goal is to have enough troops to "seize and hold" territory and maintain basic security, which hasn't been possible under current troop levels, the official said. The Taliban continues to maintain at least half a dozen safe areas inside Afghanistan, which are prime targets for the U.S. military.

About 38,000 U.S. troops are currently serving in Afghanistan.

The increased troop levels are expected to last three to four years, the military official said.

However, the administration official said there was no clear timeline. "That would prejudge the outcome of the strategic review," the senior administration official said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has said the original mission in Afghanistan was "too broad" and needs to be more "realistic and focused" for the United States to succeed.

"If we set ourselves the objective of creating some sort of central Asian Valhalla over there, we will lose, because nobody in the world has that kind of time, patience and money," Gates said during a recent Senate hearing.