Monday, November 9, 2009

Soldiers will not pull back to avoid casualties, head of British forces in Afghanistan says

Troops will not pull back from outlying bases in Helmand to avoid casualties, the head of British forces in Afghanistan has said.

Brigadier James Cowan denied reports that forces would withdraw from remote posts such as Musa Qala because they were overstretched.

Military officials also denied there were plans to scale back operations in advance of a British election to prevent deaths further swinging public opinion against the war.

Brig Cowan, commander of 11 Light Brigade, said: "We are here to protect Helmand, we are in those areas, we have no plans whatsoever to withdraw.

"We are here in those areas and there are no plans to withdraw from those locations."

Gen Stanley McChrystal, senior commander of Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, has said the 110,000-strong coalition should concentrate on securing cities and population centres to defeat the Taliban.

However British commanders have said they will continue to hold the densely populated Helmand river valley and outlying outposts.

Brig Cowan said "What I would like to see is the centre of Helmand, where we currently are putting our main effort, our hold of it deepened and the assurance that we give to the local population strengthened.

"Because this is about the confidence of the people of Afghanistan and of Helmand so my aim is to improve that confidence in the government of Afghanistan."

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, head of the Armed Forces, admitted that progress in Afghanistan was "painful, slow and halting".

He said: "What we see is the downside and it is a very, very painful downside, tragic losses bereaved families back home that are having to cope with that loss, people who are injured and having to deal with a complete change in their life.

"But, out there on the ground, talk to the people who are doing it on the ground and they will tell you that they are making real progress.

We have got to do much better at describing their progress.

"It is painful, it is slow, it is halting, but it is in the right direction."

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