Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

"We face defeat in Afghanistan, Army chiefs warn Blair," Sunday Mail UK, July 2, 2006.

Army chiefs have warned Tony Blair that British forces face defeat in Afghanistan unless more troops and equipment are sent out immediately, it has been claimed.

According to a senior military source, Army top brass have told the Government there is a possibility of failure in Afghanistan, where British soldiers have met significant resistance from the Taliban forces defeated by the US-Anglo invasion five years ago.

The source said that officers at the Services' Permanent Joint Headquarters at Northwood, North London, run by Major General Nick Houghton, had told Ministers that 'strategic failure' – military jargon for defeat – could not be ruled out.

The report comes amid growing pressure on Defence Secretary Des Browne to reinforce the 3,300-strong contingent of British troops in Afghanistan, where two Special Forces soldiers were killed last week after fighting with the Taliban.

Conservative frontbencher Patrick Mercer said: 'This has turned into a shooting war and our forces do not have the firepower to deal with it.'

Army chiefs have told Mr Blair they urgently need more soldiers on the ground, extra artillery, more helicopters to ensure that wounded soldiers can be airlifted to medical centres, and GR7 Harriers to attack Taliban bases.

'The British forces are having difficulty in coping,' a military source said. 'They were sent in there as peacekeepers and now find themselves in what is, in all but name, another war.

'They cannot get proper supplies and if men are injured, it is proving difficult to fly them out of the danger zone. That cannot go on.'

Extra resources

Both Lieutenant General David Richards, commander of the Nato force in Afghanistan, and General Sir Mike Jackson, Chief of the General Staff, are calling for extra resources.

When British forces were switched to Afghanistan from Iraq last year in a deal with America, former Defence Secretary John Reid said their main task would be peacekeeping. But they were soon taking on insurgents determined to bring down the democratic government of Afghanistan elected after the Taliban regime was toppled.

The British force was sent to Helmand Province, the Taliban stronghold, and is now involved in daily battles with its guerrillas. The resurgence in the Taliban has taken Britain and America by surprise.

In spite of several victories against Taliban fighters, the British force has been hampered by other problems. Because of the size of the area for which they are responsible, they have to fly troops to the front line to avoid Taliban forces attacking long-distance lorry convoys almost at will.

In an added complication, the Chinook helicopters they rely on are unable to operate in the intense heat of the Afghan summer.

Ministry of Defence aides say there is irritation in Downing Street that Spain and Germany, both with troops in safer parts of Afghanistan, are reluctant to divert forces to relieve the British contingent.
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