Commanders slam Afghan campaign


Published: Thursday 23rd October 2014 by The News Editor

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British commanders have given a damning assessment of the military campaign in Afghanistan, admitting that at times troops were so stretched there was a risk they would be “massacred”.

Senior figures including three former service chiefs have criticised planning, and strategic errors in a BBC2 documentary to mark the withdrawal of forces.

The UK is said to have committed to a role in Afghanistan in 2004 despite already being heavily engaged in Iraq and knowing two major campaigns could not be sustained for any length of time.

General Sir Peter Wall, who served as Chief of the General Staff between 2010 and 2014, said: “We had put forward a plan … saying that … for the limited objectives that we had set ourselves, this was a reasonable force. And I freely admit now, that calculus was wrong.”

The programme was told that by 2005 it was clear the situation in Iraq was getting worse, but the following year 3,300 troops were deployed to Helmand province.

General Lord Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff between 2006 and 2009, said: “We knew that we were heading for two considerable-size operations and we really only had the organisation and manpower for one.

“Therefore perhaps we should have revisited the decision … that we the UK would lead an enlarged mission in southern Afghanistan in 2006 … We didn’t do that.”

By the summer of that year some UK troops were effectively stranded in a number of forward bases, and ran low on food, water and ammunition.

“There was a real danger that we would find that we couldn’t support our people that we would find a platoon cut off and potentially massacred,” Lord Dannatt said.

Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of British forces in Helmand in 2006, said: “We were under prepared, we were under-resourced, and most importantly, we didn’t have a clear and achievable strategy to deliver success.”

Amid fierce fighting, the government was also facing an increasingly sceptical attitude from the British public. They were said to have responded by highlighting the service of soldiers who had given their lives in the campaign.

However, according to General Lord Richards, Chief of the Defence Staff between 2010 and 2013, this effort backfired.

“The British armed forces and the army in particular were being portrayed as victims of war not victors and it meant that the psychological environment in which we were trying to explain why it was important that we succeeded was that much tougher,” he said.

Despite the problems, top brass told the documentary team that the campaign had been worthwhile.

Sir Peter Wall said the consequences of not intervening could have left Afghanistan in the same chaos as the Syria and Iraq borders.

“The lasting impact we will have had is not just to sanitize the threat to allow the development of governance and economy, but to be a witness to and stimulus for very significant social change, with an improving economy, with jobs, with much developed farming opportunities in contrast to narcotics,” he said.

“Had we not done this Helmand could well be looking rather like the borders of Syria and Iraq.”

:: Afghanistan: The Lion’s Last Roar? is being shown on BBC2 on Sunday, October 26 at 9pm and Sunday, November 2 at 9pm.

Published: Thursday 23rd October 2014 by The News Editor

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