Monday, January 11, 2010
The international military effort in Afghanistan was under-resourced for years, the head of the Army has said as US troops prepared to take over operations in an area which has seen some of the bloodiest fighting for British forces.
Chief of the General Staff General Sir David Richards said US President Barack Obama's surge strategy could see American troops playing a greater role in northern Helmand province.
He said he was hopeful casualty levels would diminish towards the end of a ''tough'' 2010 but added that a military presence would be required for up to five years.
Gen Richards' comments came as it was announced that Rupert Hamer, the Sunday Mirror's defence correspondent, was killed in an explosion yesterday while embedded with US Marines in Afghanistan.
Commanders in Afghanistan, led by US General Stanley McChrystal, are considering using US troops to provide security in the more remote areas of Helmand province.
Gen Richards said the new plan endorsed by President Obama would help provide an exit strategy for the Alliance.
He told BBC Radio 5 Live: ''We never really had the resources across the whole alliance to do everything that we knew we had to do.
''President Obama has now taken that decision and we will see a pouring into places like Afghanistan of many more Allied troops, principally American, but also a huge focus on building up the Afghan army and police because ultimately that is how we can extricate ourselves from something that they must ultimately be allowed to run and control themselves.''
There is also speculation that Geoff Hoon, the former Cabinet minister behind the attempted coup against Gordon Brown, is planning to inflict further damage on the Prime Minister over Afghanistan.
Asked about the proposals for a greater US role in Helmand, the general said: ''This is a military decision based on making sure that we make the proper use of the resources flowing in there.
''It is not a decision that will be taken in London by people like me, it'll be General McChrystal's job and the British commanders out there.
''In essence what is being looked at is to see whether or not the Americans, as more of them go into Helmand, can take over some of the more outlying areas to make sure that ... our force ratios, that's the number of troops per head of population, are at the sort of densities we would normally associate with a counter-insurgency operation.''
In the longer term, Gen Richards said: ''I don't think there will be a military presence in the shape it is today, I hope, for more than about three to five years.''
But he said British troops could only leave if the Afghan authorities were capable of taking over from them.
He added: ''What my understanding of what President Obama has said is that from about the 18-month point, i.e. the middle of next year, it should be possible to ... start to reduce some of the surge. I would anticipate that will be possible.
''But the essence of our military operation is likely to remain broadly as it is today.
''But I do emphasise, I personally anticipate ... as we get this business of mass right, the numbers of boots on the ground, a result of Allied enhancements and a growth in the Afghan army and police, that I would see a diminishing level of casualties from the end of this year.
''But it could be a tough year until we reach that point.''
Gen Richards portrayed many of the lower level Taliban as ''testosterone-fuelled young men'' who could be persuaded to lay down their arms if provided with a job and a secure family life.
He said: ''I have often said that actually one better way of securing them to prevent them doing what they are doing is perhaps to provide them with jobs, marriage allowances - lots of testosterone-fuelled young men, they are looking for a way to assert themselves.
''There are lots of clever ways that we can be confronting the fact that all the foot soldiers are basically young men who are trying to assert themselves within their own cultural constraints.''
Posted by Media Ops Blog at 12:30 PM