Just over a month ago it was revealed that the public had been misled over the British troop deployment to Afghanistan. Ministers had been fully briefed about the dangers facing the soldiers by senior military chiefs and diplomats, and yet they claimed the level of resistance from the Taliban had taken them by surprise. Then Defence Secretary, John Reid, famously said “We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction”. Well, since that statement, over 400,000 bullets have been fired and there have been numerous casualties.
Now we are learning a little more about the warnings John Reid was given by these senior army officers and ignored.
Britain’s most senior military chiefs warned John Reid not to commit UK troops to “a war on two fronts” in Iraq and Afghanistan more than 18 months ago, The Independent on Sunday can reveal.
Despite clear advice that a “significant” withdrawal of troops from Iraq was needed before a new mission, Mr Reid went ahead with the Afghan deployment after coming under pressure from Tony Blair. The advice, prepared by military planners and endorsed by the Chiefs of the Defence Staff, was given to Mr Reid on his arrival as Secretary of State for Defence in May last year. Despite the warnings, he went ahead with the deployment in January.
Mr Reid was accused last night of having taken “a gamble” by the Conservative spokesman on foreign affairs as the political and military fall-out from the conflict continues to grow. The present Secretary of State for Defence, Des Browne, has been forced to deny persistent reports that military chiefs are pressing for significant withdrawals from Iraq in order to shore up the Afghanistan operation.
Well now we are fighting a war on two fronts, or two wars on two fronts. In Afghanistan the troops are under equipped and there aren’t enough of them to do the job. NATO cannot find any countries willing to send more troops into what is looking like the beginnings of another quagmire.
What to do? Well the British army seem to have found a unique way of preventing the situation getting any more out of control. The soldiers have negotiated a secret truce with the Taliban.
BRITISH troops battling the Taliban are to withdraw from one of the most dangerous areas of Afghanistan after agreeing a secret deal with the local people.
Over the past two months British soldiers have come under sustained attack defending a remote mud-walled government outpost in the town of Musa Qala in southern Afghanistan. Eight have been killed there.
It has now been agreed the troops will quietly pull out of Musa Qala in return for the Taliban doing the same. The compound is one of four district government offices in the Helmand province that are being guarded by British troops.
Although soldiers on the ground may welcome the agreement, it is likely to raise new questions about troop deployment. Last month Sir Richard Dannatt, the new head of the British Army, warned that soldiers in Afghanistan were fighting at the limit of their capacity and could only “just” cope with the demands.
When British troops were first sent to Afghanistan it was hoped they would help kick-start the country’s reconstruction. But under pressure from President Hamid Karzai they were forced to defend Afghan government “district centres” at Musa Qala, Sangin, Nowzad and Kajaki.
The move — opposed by Lieutenant-General David Richards, the Nato commander in Afghanistan — turned the four remote British bases into what Richards called “magnets” for the Taliban. All 16 of the British soldiers killed in action in southern Afghanistan have died at Musa Qala, Sangin or Nowzad.
The soldiers risk sniper fire and full-scale assaults from experienced Taliban fighters who can then blend into the local population after each attack.
The peace deal in Musa Qala was first mooted by representatives of the town’s 2,000-strong population. About 400 people living in the immediate area of the district centre compound have been forced to evacuate their homes, most of which have been destroyed in the fighting.
This seems like a very practical arrangement under such difficult circumstances. I can’t see it lasting though. Sooner or later the politicians will get in the way of peace again so that they can claim to have made “progress” in the war. Progress these days seems to be measured in dead bodies and destroyed buildings rather than any actual reconstruction.