Tuesday, August 18, 2009
Military control could be handed over to Afghan forces in parts of Helmand immediately, according to Brigadier Tim Radford, commander of British forces in the province.
The Afghan National Army (ANA) is considered strong enough in some areas of Helmand - where most of the UK's 9,100 troops in Afghanistan are based - to assume responsibility for security.
Brig Radford, commander of Task Force Helmand, suggested this could happen in the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, and to a lesser extent in Garmsir.
He said: ''I think we could be in a position to transition some places.
''If we wanted to let Lashkar Gah be run by the ANA we could do that now, or in some respects Garmsir.
''Are ANA capable of transition to take security lead? Almost certainly yes - in certain areas.''
Brig Radford's comments follow criticism of Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth after he suggested the UK's role in Afghanistan could be scaled down over the next 12 months.
Mr Ainsworth said on Sunday: ''I genuinely believe that in the next year or so that we will be able to show a degree of progress.
''It will not be at a situation where we will be able to pull back, but we will increasingly see the Afghan National Army taking the front.
''We will be more in a mentoring and a training situation, you know, giving them the steer and the capacity and the knowledge to be able to do the job that they will need to do.''
The remarks, made on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show, were greeted with scepticism by opposition parties, who accused the Government of spinning to try to cover up its errors.
At present British forces are involved in mentoring Afghan soldiers and police in Helmand.
Senior officers are keen to move towards working in partnership with them rather than in a teacher and pupil-style relationship.
Brig Radford pointed out that in the recent Operation Panther's Claw - which was hailed a success after hundreds of Taliban were driven out of a former stronghold - foreign and Afghan forces fought side by side.
American and British commanders agree that getting many more Afghan soldiers and police trained up is essential to success in Afghanistan.
Brig Radford said: ''The key factor is we need more and we need them more quickly.''