Sunday, August 16, 2009

BBC News interview with Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson

Afghan men hold posters of Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai during an election rally in support of Karzai, who is seeking a second term in the country's upcoming presidential election, in Kandahar province today (Reuters Picture)

BBC News Interview

Maxine Mawhinney, presenter
and Lieutenant
Colonel Nick Richardson, the British forces spokesman for Task Force

Maxine Mawhinney, presenter: Well, we're joined now by Lieutenant
Colonel Nick Richardson, the British forces spokesman for Task Force
Helmand. He joins me from Lashkar Gah. Thank you very much indeed for
taking the time to talk to us this afternoon. First of all... the latest
victims, the three young soldiers who died on Thursday, bringing the
total now to 199. It's devastating, isn't it, for the troops?

Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, British forces spokesman: It's a
sad day for us and our thoughts and prayers are with the families of
those that have suffered such great loss. But we're undeterred by
what's going on. The tributes to the three soldiers speak for
themselves. They talk about the loyalty, the courage of the
individuals, their selfless commitment. They have made the ultimate
sacrifice. But we're here, they've been helping make progress
within Afghanistan and that progress continues day to day.

MM: And the danger yet again of going out on foot patrol highlighted
though by the deaths of these three young men.

LCNR: Yes, but foot patrols are very necessary. The three people that
died were in a patrol that was providing security in advance of the
elections that take place in about a week's time and that's a very
tangible sign of the progress that's being made here.

MM: Given... that what we've seen this bomb today in Kabul ahead of the
elections as well, do you feel a difference in the air there, is there a

LCNR: No, actually, the local Afghans that I've come in contact with
are looking forward to the elections. I was out in Babaji on part of
Operation Panther's Claw just recently, watching the local Afghans
there being able to register. Because of the security we've brought
to the area, they were able to register for the elections in just a
week's time. So they are looking forward to it in the main and we
hope it will go well and it's a sign of progress that the elections
are taking place in just a week's time.

MM: And how... how is your mission going overall, would you think -
you're providing security but of course, you've got train local
Afghans as well because you cannot be there forever.

LCNR: Correct. That progress is going very well. We've trained
about 90,000 soldiers in the Afghan national army now and upwards of 60,
70,000 Afghan national police. They've come from, in many ways, a
standing start and that's a sign of the progress we're making
towards Afghan security forces being able to take over the security for
their own country in due course.

MM: What about the sophistication or seeming sophistication of the
Taliban now, particularly now with the bombs that they are making to
attack troops on the ground and also the bomb we saw today in Kabul
inside the security zone - more and more daring, it seems, by the

LCNR: Well, I would actually offer it [sounds like] as a sign of
desperation. These weapons, these devices, are very indiscriminate.
The injury, the fatality rate in... Kabul today demonstrates that. Most
of the IEDs that go off strike against the local population and 80% of
the IDs that detonate hit the local population. I myself have helped
unload casualties here from a helicopter, Afghan civilians who've been
desperately injured in an IED strike.

MM: What about the equipment that your men are using, is it sufficient,
are you happy, do you have enough helicopters?

LCNR: Absolutely. My command and everyone else is on the record as
saying we have sufficient helicopters to undertake the operations here.
Our equipment is top notch. Many hundreds of millions of pounds is
being spent on equipment. I can vouch the fact that the equipment has
never been better and there's plenty of it. Could we do with more?
Absolutely. Anybody would always want more. But we have sufficient
for the task that we're undertaking.

MM: How important are these elections for this country, not just the
elections themselves but the fact that people need to get out to vote so
they need the help... the security so that they can do so?

LCNR: Well, there's sufficient security in many of the areas.
There's obviously a plan in place to improve and increase that and
make sure that the Taliban and insurgents can't disrupt the elections
and we hope that will work, but the proof in the pudding will be on the
20th when the elections take place. But everything is in place for the
elections to be credible and fair and successful.

MM: And you were just mentioning there, you were talking to some of the
local Afghans and they're actually looking forward to the elections
- what are they saying to you?

LCNR: Absolutely. They were there; the voter registration team had
gone into the Babaji area where Operation Panther's Claw was taking
place. They went in only two or three days after the fighting had
stopped there and the locals were queuing to register to vote in a
week's time in the elections.

MM: And had that been several weeks ago before Panther's Claw, would
they have been queuing?

LCNR: Absolutely not, no. The security situation would not have
allowed the Independent Electoral Commission to go in there and set up
polling stations, so again, another sign of progress which is helping
the Afghan people and we're helping improve their lives every day that
we're here.

MM: Just one final thought: I want to bring it back to the loss that
you've suffered recently, particularly on Thursday with the three
young soldiers. What is morale like among British troops in

LCNR: Morale remains undented. People at home in the United Kingdom
and wider should be very proud of the British soldier. The resolve and
determination only hardens with these incidents and these fatalities and
the tragedies that we suffer. I've just been speaking to one of the
commanding officers just a few minutes before coming on air who said
actually, his soldiers had bounced back extremely quickly from a recent
fatality and that's a real sign that people should be very proud of
and what the British army and the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy are
achieving out here because we're part of a coalition and we're all
working very hard to achieve success and we're doing that.

MM: Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, thank you very much for joining
us. Thank you.

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