Thursday, August 20, 2009

The British Deputy Commander of ISAF talks to Channel 4 News

General James Dutton in Paktika in RC-E talking to troops

Last night General James Dutton, the UK's top commander in Afghanistan and the
second-in-command of the NATO operation spoke to Channel 4 News.

Alex Thomson, presenter: Well I'm joined now by General James Dutton, who is not only the UK's top commander in Afghanistan but also second-in-command of the NATO operation here. I should stress that,although the General and I are only a short distance apart here in Kabul, we're bouncing back to you on two different satellites, so there will be a little bit of a delay; do bear with us. General Dutton, a very good evening to you. How can materially NATO avoid these kind of levels of civilian causalities? I know General McChrystal here, the NATO boss, is very concerned, but war is war.

General James Dutton, NATO Deputy Commander in Afghanistan: Well that's true, of course, there's always going to be a level of civilian casualties however hard we try. But I would want to emphasise just how hard we are trying, and you rightly point out that General McChrystal has reenergised this effort since his arrival here two months ago. But there has been a determination to reduce civilian casualties to the absolute minimum, certainly for my tour which is now nine months gone here and indeed before that. So we are as careful as we can be, and we are always looking for more ways of reducing civilian

AT: And of course war, being a cynical business in many respects, the more you are taking those sorts of levels of precaution to avoid civilian causalities, the more the Taliban know and the more the Taliban will presumably use civilians as shields?

JD: Well that's true, and I mean, we always point out that civilian casualties from any source are a tragedy, of course. When we, the coalition forces, create civilian causalities, it is of course always by
accident. We always investigate those incidents, and, in any way that we can, we try and make amends for them and learn lessons from them. Of course, you make the point for me that the insurgents are doing this cynically and in order to create casualties, because that is the effect they want to achieve. But, nevertheless, any civilian casualties are to be hugely regretted and we try to reduce them as much as possible.

AT: Well now, let's move on to the nagging question - it doesn't go away - of wanting more troops. The boss of the British Army still wants that extra 2,000 troops, the Government still apparently saying
no. Tell us what difference 2,000 more forces would or could make down in Helmand.

JD: Well we always want more troops and more equipment, military commanders always do. Rather than just focus on the numbers of British troops because, as you correctly introduced me, I'm the deputy commander of the whole ISAF force, so looking at this Afghanistan-wide, we are since General McChrystal's arrival conducting a review of both the strategy, and that will then lead us on to what we call a troops to task or a resources to task review. We're only just beginning that stage, so it's too early to say what we want and where.

But we've been saying for a long time that we lacked the capacity, specifically in
Helmand but also in the whole of the south of the country, to counter the situation as it has developed over the past two years. And of course the recent influx of US troops, 17,000 of them, the US Marines, and now the US Army Stryker BCT which is moving into the Kandahar and Zabul area, is already beginning to make a big difference. But it's too early to see how much of a difference it's going to make, and so really too early to say what other forces or other force mix might be

AT: General Dutton, thanks very much for being with us. And, of course, the beauty of that satellite delay meant I couldn't interrupt him, so a bonus for the General.

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