Friday, January 8, 2010
Picture: Sgt Rob Knight
Richard Norton-Taylor, The Guardian
The UK commander of Nato forces in south Afghanistan heralded a new phase in the conflict, with US reinforcements finally enabling British troops to hold key areas of Helmand.
Major General Nick Carter said British troops could concentrate on the most populated towns along the river Helmand – the green zone – while US Stryker brigades, equipped with 1,500 heavy armoured vehicles, protected the main highways, crucial for convoys bringing supplies from Pakistan and for Afghanistan's economic development.
He held out the prospect of Afghan forces and civilian authority taking control within less than a year of key areas of central Helmand, with the help of up to 3,000 US marines and 1,000 British troops.
An extra 21,000 American troops were deployed in south Afghanistan last year and a further 20,000 will be deployed this year. US troops now outnumber the 9,500 British troops in Helmand.
They had brought with them specialised military equipment, Carter said, but "the real change is they have come with a lot of money and a significant number of civilians." Speaking by video link to reporters in London, the general said Nato's mission statement in Afghanistan was no longer "defeating an insurgency" but "protecting the population".