The Prime Minister's decision to dispatch 500 more troops to Afghanistan is a tacit admission that the number of troops currently deployed is insufficient for a mission of counter insurgency through civilian population protection, and excessive for a mission that targets al Qaida instead of the Taleban.
The Prime Minister’s decision to dispatch 500 more troops to Afghanistan is a tacit admission that the number of troops currently deployed is insufficient for a mission of counter insurgency through civilian population protection, and excessive for a mission that targets al Qaida instead of the Taleban.
Domestically, the government faces calls from the Liberal Democrats for a scale down of the British troop presence and a focus on al Qaida’s presence in Afghan/Pakistan border areas through special forces and predator drone attacks. Former defence secretary John Hutton said today it would have been “much more helpful” to have sent the extra troops six months ago. The Conservative party continues to call for a scaled up troop presence, ostensibly for the purpose of training the Afghan army. Although, like the UK and US governments, the Conservative position on civilian population protection remains unclear.
Defence expert opinion on Britain’s next moves leans towards escalation. Indicative of this approach were today’s comments on the World at One by the Royal United Services Institute’s Malcolm Chalmers:
“Our troops can’t do the job they’re being asked to do, particularly in terms of hearts and minds efforts which are so vital, in Helmand province without more troops.”
Such an approach is also favoured by prominent Afghan leaders such as Ashraf Ghani, former Afghan finance minister and Presidential candidate who, also speaking on the World at One, said, “General McCrystal is focusing on a strategy that protects the population and so we are finally getting a coherent strategy … that lays the basis for gradual and eventually systematic withdrawal of forces from Afghanistan.”
The British debate on Afghanistan comes in the context of President Obama’s ongoing strategic review, with Vice President Biden favouring an al Qaida emphasis and a dramatic lowering of US sights and Generals Petreaus and McCrystal favouring a large scale troop escalation for the purpose of civilian protection. The view of Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary Gates, increasingly in alignment on national security matters, will likely prove decisive in tipping the balance of the President’s decision.
President Obama has already doubled the US troop presence since he took office. Crucial to the next stage of the debate will be honesty and directness from all the parties concerned with the actual purpose of the mission and the resources prepared for that purpose. With the status quo failing to deliver clear results on the ground or sustain popular support, a clear articulation of commitment and cost is now needed.
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