Nick Griffin Launches BNP Manifesto “No Muslims” Marmite Sue BNP

April 26, 2010

by Paul Conneally

Marmite and Muslims – BNP Launch Manifesto

As Marmite started legal proceedings against the BNP after they used a picture of a jar of Marmite in their election broadcast with the strap line “Love Britain, Vote BNP”, Nick Griffin, leader of the British National Party launched the BNP’s election manifesto in Stoke on Trent with a pledge that if elected they would stop any more Muslims coming to live in the UK and offer repatriation packages to immigrants to leave the the UK.

EDL-BNP_Violence.JPG

The British National Party (BNP) are calling for an end to immigration from Muslim nations, saying this presents a “deadly threat” to the UK.

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Probe reveals lead-up to Iraq war

November 25, 2009

by Alice Ritchie Alice Ritchie

LONDON (AFP) – The first full-scale inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war opened Tuesday with testimony suggesting Washington was gearing up for possible conflict two years before Tony Blair led London to war.


A protestor wearing a Tony Blair mask covers his hands with fake blood as he demonstrates outside the venue for the public inquiry into the Iraq war. The first full-scale inquiry into Britain’s role in the Iraq war has opened with families of soldiers killed in combat desperate to hear Tony Blair justify the decision to join the US-led invasion.

More than six years after the US-led invasion, inquiry chairman John Chilcot said no-one was “on trial” in the year-long probe but promised not to shy away from criticism as he seeks to learn lessons from the conflict.

Chilcot profile

The highlight of the public inquiry will be an appearance by then prime minister Blair , who is due to give evidence in January.

The first day of hearings was dominated by testimony from top civil servants who told how some in the US administration were already considering toppling Saddam Hussein ‘s Iraqi regime two years before the 2003 invasion.

However, they said Britain distanced itself from these “voices” and said they remained sidelined even within the United States until after the September 11, 2001, attacks in New York and Washington.

“No-one is on trial here. We cannot determine guilt or innocence. Only a court can do that,” Chilcot said in his opening remarks .

“But I make a commitment here that once we get to our final report, we will not shy away from making criticisms, either of institutions or processes or individuals, where they are truly warranted.”

Chilcot’s five-member inquiry committee has already met with families of the 179 British troops who died in Iraq, some of whom attended Tuesday’s session.

“I just want the truth,” Rose Gentle, whose son Gordon died in Iraq in 2004, told AFP afterwards, adding: “I’ve never had any answers. I’ve never been told anything. Why we went in, whether it was legal.”

Timeline: Britain’s role in Iraq

Gentle, who wears a picture of her son in a gold heart around her neck, said she would return when Blair gives evidence. “If mistakes were made, he’s the one that’s got to live with it,” she said.

A small group of protesters gathered outside the inquiry venue in central London, wearing masks of Blair, former US president George W. Bush and current British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and with fake blood on their hands.

Anti-war campaigners want a ruling on the legality of the conflict, which took place without explicit approval from the UN Security Council.

Inside, there seemed to be little public interest. In contrast to the one million people who marched against the invasion on one day in 2003 — only about half of the seats in the public gallery were filled.

They heard senior civil servants outline how Iraq was considered a threat in 2001 because of a “clear impression” that it intended to “acquire WMD (weapons of mass destruction) capability.”

Iraq’s suspected possession of such weapons was the main justification for the invasion in March 2003, but they were never found.

The officials described “voices” in Washington talking about deposing Hussein as early as 2001, but insisted US and British policy was focused on containing the Iraqi leader’s ambitions through sanctions and a no-fly zone.

William Patey, head of the Middle East department at the Foreign Office in 2001, said he ordered a memo in late 2001 detailing “all the options” for Iraq. It included regime change, but he said this was quickly dismissed.

He added: “We were aware of these drum beats from Washington and internally we discussed it. Our policy was to stay away from that end of the spectrum.”

Peter Ricketts, who chaired Britain’s top intelligence committee in 2000-2001, said: “I was certainly not aware of anyone in the British government promoting or supporting active measures for regime change.”

Thinking in Washington shifted after the September 11 attacks, said Simon Webb, then policy director at the Ministry of Defence, “to say that we cannot afford to wait for these threats to materialise.”

Britain also changed the way it viewed WMD proliferation and counter-terrorism but Ricketts said: “We still had our focus on the weapons inspector route and the sanctions-type route.”

The inquiry, the third official probe into the war, is looking at all elements of British involvement in Iraq between 2001 and 2009 when nearly all its troops withdrew.


Allied forces ‘may abandon most of northern Helmand’

November 11, 2009

A new strategy for Afghanistan that could lead to a British troop withdrawal from a former Taleban stronghold in northern Helmand province sparked immediate controversy yesterday.


British military sources said that a withdrawal from Musa Qala would be viewed as a defeat

Tom Coghlan in Kabul and Michael Evans, Defence Editor

According to a senior Nato source, Western military commanders in Afghanistan are considering a radical shift in policy that would see British and US forces conduct a tactical pull-out from most of northern Helmand, including the town of Musa Qala. The source said that the plan to withdraw from northern Helmand would be considered if proposed reinforcements, currently being examined by President Obama, were not approved. General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Kabul, has asked for 40,000 more troops but President Obama has yet to make a decision.

British military sources said, however, that a withdrawal from Musa Qala would be viewed as a defeat and could not be countenanced. They said it would also be a betrayal of the governor of the district, who risked his life to take a stand against the insurgents.

Mullah Abdul Salaam, a former Taleban commander, switched sides to become district governor of Musa Qala only hours before British troops from 52 Brigade and Afghan soldiers retook the town from insurgent control in December 2007. British troops had withdrawn from Musa Qala in 2006 after a “deal” with the local tribal elders, but the Taleban seized control until the arrival of 52 Brigade.

The plans now being considered in Kabul would pull British and American troops out of the towns of Musa Qala and Nawzad to focus on stabilising the highly populated central areas of the province. The only remaining Western forces in the north of the province would be those defending the hydro-electric dam at Kajaki.

The plans are the most radical among options being considered by General McChrystal under a broader plan to shift forces towards the defence of more populous areas of the country, ceding outlying and remote areas. The new doctrine is focused on concentration of forces around population centres, main arteries and economic corridors with the ultimate aim of protecting the population and allowing intensive reconstruction.

A senior Nato officer confirmed that proposals existed for a pull-out from Nawzad and Musa Qala, but said: “No decision has been made.”

The senior British military sources insisted that total withdrawal from Musa Qala was not an option but acknowledged it was possible that the area in which troops currently operated in the district could be reduced to make available more resources for enhancing security in places such as Kandahar and Lashkar Gah.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of the Defence Staff, also denied that Britain was planning to pull out of Musa Qala, but he confirmed on the BBC Andrew Marr show that Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) would be focusing more on Afghanistan’s main population centres.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: “Focusing on people, not territory, is not a retreat, it is the strategy set out by the Prime Minister in April and by General McChrystal in his recent review of strategy for Isaf. Nevertheless there are currently no plans to withdraw from any area of Helmand.”

US forces in eastern Afghanistan have already begun withdrawing from a number of combat outposts, mostly in remote areas close to the porous Pakistan border. Lieutenant-Colonel Todd Vician, US Army spokesman, confirmed that US forces have so far withdrawn from six outposts, four in Nuristan province and two in Paktika province.

Brigadier James Cowan who commands 11 Light Brigade in Helmand, denied that British troops might withdraw from outlying towns in the province. “We are here to protect Helmand, we have no plans whatsoever to withdraw,” he said.


Why We’re Getting it Wrong in Afghanistan

September 7, 2009

Anthony King

The British army’s determination to “crack on” in Helmand may be brave, but foolish

Writing in this month’s Prospect, Stephen Grey details the political and military mistakes that have been made in Helmand. Perhaps most importantly, he identifies the role of the institutional culture of Britain’s armed forces: “cracking on”-the unshakeable determination of Britain’s troops. Grey is right that the ethos of “cracking on” is the army’s greatest quality; effective armies require fortitude and morale in order to endure the losses that they will inevitably suffer. Yet, as he notes, it may be the army’s greatest weakness too.

Having worked with the British armed forces for the last five years, watching them on operations in Kabul and Basra, it has become clear to me that the culture of “cracking on” may not mean merely that British troops from the Somme to Sangin have dutifully enacted orders which they know to be poor but, more seriously, it affects operational command itself. As Grey notes, British commanders have blithely conducted missions in Helmand despite a woeful lack of intelligence about the theatre and knowingly inadequate military resources for any realistic chance of success.

During their initial training at Sandhurst, army officers are taught to retain the initiative: when they are confronted by the immediate presence of an enemy, it is better to do the wrong thing decisively than to do nothing at all. Passivity almost always leads to defeat, while determined, concerted action- even if initially implausible-can often unhinge opponents. On recurrent exercises primarily based on conventional warfare, the centrality of activity, of tempo and offensive action-of cracking on-is repeatedly emphasised to trainee officers. At the tactical level, this prioritisiation of action and initiative is surely correct, imbuing a robust work ethic in Britain’s armed forces which is appreciated and valued by their allies, like the US. From the Balkans to Afghanistan, multinational commanders have looked to British troops to carry out tasks that other nations have been reluctant to perform.

More surprising, however, is that the same ethos of action is evident at staff college where officers are trained for operational command. Although the concept behind Britain’s Joint Service Command and Staff College (created in 1997) was innovative, the institution was imbued with traditional British military culture. It was and remains a testament to “cracking on.” Giving students little time for thought and independent reading and research, the college seems to replicate a conventional military exercise in which the speed and quantity of output is prioritised over quality-and potentially incorrect action over cautious contemplation. The result is that Britain’s operational commanders feel the need to act and impose themselves on any situation.

More worrying still, British commanders often have a narrow concept of the ideal form of military action. Despite well-worn claims to expertise in counter-insurgency, the British army actually regards conventional military combat as the ideal-and indeed ultimate-test of their professionalism. Like Clausewitz’s military genius, British officers today want to test themselves under “the most murderous fire.” This encourages the premature and excessive use of violence despite wider the political situation. In June 2008, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith judged the Taliban insurgency to have been defeated (at least temporarily) as a result of a series of decapitation missions by special forces he had commanded. But by the end of the tour in October, he took a rather different line, arguing that this was a campaign which could not be won by the very military methods which he had advocated only months earlier. British commanders are prone to confusing local tactical superiority with operational success.

Even now there are inadequate numbers of troops in Helmand. However, rather than tailor the campaign to their resources, commanders have consistently “cracked on”; seeking to dominate the whole of Helmand, a hostile province the size of Wales, with just a few thousand troops, and dispersing their forces across the province into small, isolated platoon and operating bases. Even in the Sangin Valley, where there are several significant positions, the British bases cannot mutually support each other; they are too far apart, while Musa Qaleh is some twenty miles away to the north. As British commanders in Sangin have themselves noted, troops in these locations “sit in a bubble,” and this inevitably means they are engaging in numerous firefights.

Institutional factors within the military establishment seem to have further encouraged this preference for “cracking on.” Never easy, tensions between the services have become increasingly strained over the last decade as a result of declining defence budgets and, as they approach the future defence review in 2010, these frictions have reached a crisis point. Each service is desperately seeking to protect itself from cuts; furious and bitter arguments have been reported, with each service trying to undercut the other. And intense tactical activity in Helmand has become a potent tool in this competition: it is very difficult to cut regiments that have fought hard and suffered numerous casualties in Helmand. Budgetary pressures, then, have actually precipitated a preference for high-intensity war-fighting in Helmand-a pathological institutional reaction to chronic under-funding, ministerial mismanagement and poor governmental guidance.

A new Afghan strategy is essential-and the announcements from US General McChrystal and Gordon Brown at the end of August recognise this. However, their new strategy in Helmand also requires a reformation of Britain’s armed forces themselves. The success of General Petraeus in Iraq rested finally on a common recognition by the US Army and Marine Corps that the way in which they trained, planned and conducted military operations required profound revision. In short, operational success demands institutional reform at home. While valuable at the tactical level, the culture of “cracking on” needs to be expunged from operational command. The armed forces, the ministry of defence and government need to develop more mature criteria on which to assess the performance of commanders-judging them by their political contribution to the campaign, not by the number of air assault operations they have conducted.

There is some evidence that the British armed forces may be capable of this change. In previous campaigns in Malaya and Northern Ireland, the British recognised, after false starts, that the key to success in counter-insurgency campaigns was the slow suppression of insurgency through intelligence, negotiation, the presence of adequate security forces and cross-governmental coordination. The British now need to relearn these lessons very quickly. The alternative is that their commanders in Helmand will continue to disperse their forces in futile and blunt demonstrations-ensuring that they crack on to defeat not only in Helmand but at home, in the arena of public support, as well.


Afghanistan: Dangerous illusions

July 27, 2009

When the truth emerges, it has to be squashed. Lord Malloch-Brown, who is standing down as a Foreign Office minister this week, was forced yesterday to correct an interview he gave to the Daily Telegraph, in which he said British troops did not have enough helicopters. This is what every British general had been telling government for years. But what if there were enough helicopters? What does it say about the control Britain claims to have over Afghan territory eight years on, if the only safe way troops can move around is by air? And what if the cash-rich Taliban got their hands on surface-to-air missiles, as the mujahideen did before them? It would make communications with all forward operating bases vulnerable. Pull on one thread and the carpet unravels.

Now look at the military situation through the enemy’s eyes. Two major thrusts by US and British troops into territory the Taliban once dominated have resulted in record US and Isaf casualties: 31 US troops and 20 Isaf, 18 of them British, have been killed so far this month and many more grievously injured. The Taliban have lost men, but they have an endless supply of recruits. And they would be even less bothered by loss of territory. The battlefield has merely grown. History tells them to be patient. It tells them that they will return to the lands from which they have been ousted. Confronted by large numbers of foreign troops, Taliban commanders could rationally conclude they are weathering the storm. They buy what weapons they need with cash – guns, explosives, and Pashtun villagers to plant them – and their most effective weapon is a low-tech one, the improvised explosive device. Their war effort is eminently sustainable. Ours is not.

It becomes even less so when you examine the blithe assumptions Barack Obama’s commanders are making. Rory Stewart demolished them in the London Review of Books, but others just as knowledgable of the terrain, such as the CIA former station chief in Kabul, have as well. Assumption number one: that coalition forces can build an effective, centralised Afghan state in the space liberated by their troops. Such a state has never existed in recent memory. Assumption number two: that the counter-insurgency tactics that worked in Iraq will work again in Afghanistan. Why so? Afghan tribal chiefs bear little relation to the Iraqi Sunni tribal leaders who turned against al-Qaida. They lack coherence or any political programme. Assumption number three: that south Helmand is the frontline of a global war. The masterminds of the 7 July attacks on London in 2005 were trained in Pakistan’s Federally Administered Tribal Areas, not Afghanistan. And if every failed state has to be occupied to prevent squatters, is this not a recipe for invading Yemen, Somalia, or anywhere along the conveniently named crescent of crisis?

The empty rhetoric has to stop. State-building from the ramp of a Chinook is a fantasy, a folie de grandeur. The war against militants will not be won by expanding the battle-space. The resolution to this “good war” will not come from Kabul alone, but will be dependent on every neighbouring country with a stake in the conflict. The directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence made a telling point to the New York Times yesterday when it warned that a push by US marines in southern Afghanistan would force militants into Baluchistan. We have to stop thinking of Helmand as the frontline in a war that ends on the streets of London or Manhattan, and start thinking of what the growing conflagration is doing to Afghanistan’s immediate neighbourhood. There are no good options after eight years of warfare, only least worst ones. We should stop pouring more oil on to this fire and start thinking of realistic outcomes. And we should be doing this now.

• This article was amended on 24 July – a reference to a serious criminal case was removed.


Revealed: Brown’s secret plan to cut Afghanistan force by 1,500

July 14, 2009

Military chiefs condemn ‘disastrous’ move after Britain suffers bloodiest week

Brian Brady and Jonathan Owen

Ministers are secretly planning to cut the number of British troops in Afghanistan, at a time when defence chiefs are appealing for thousands more reinforcements to meet the deadly threat from the resurgent Taliban.


Fighting in Helmand Province is ferocious

Hours after the death toll of UK forces in Afghanistan rose above the number killed in Iraq, The Independent on Sunday established that Gordon Brown wants to bring up to 1,500 service personnel home from the war-torn country after its elections next month, seemingly on grounds of cost.

Astonished former military chiefs condemned the “disastrous” move, which emerged at the end of one of the bloodiest weeks in the recent history of the British military.

General Sir Hugh Beach, a former deputy commander of British land forces, said: “They ought to be sending the extra 2,000 men the generals have asked for because it’s quite obvious that if we’re going to get anywhere with this campaign it’s troops on the ground that are going to cut the mustard. To reduce numbers now seems to be crazy… and [makes] nonsense of everything the Army has tried to do so far.”

Colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded UK forces in Bosnia, said: “The Army apparently asked for 2,500 men and was given 750. The real resource in Afghanistan is manpower, and they ain’t got it.”

The deepening crisis in Afghanistan has dominated the political agenda in recent days, as the number of British military killed in the conflict rose to 184 – five more than the total lost by UK forces in Iraq. Ferocious fighting during Operation Panther’s Claw, the offensive aimed at clearing the Taliban from central Helmand Province, has claimed the lives of 15 British soldiers in 10 days. Eight died in 24 hours at the end of last week.

Senior ministers, including Mr Brown, the Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, and the Secretary of State for Defence, Bob Ainsworth, have striven to justify the mission amid growing doubts over the reasons for remaining in Afghanistan and over the Government’s ability to give UK forces the tools they need to do the job.

The Liberal Democrat leader, Nick Clegg, last week fractured the cross-party consensus over the eight-year Afghan campaign by questioning the Government’s commitment to the forces, and challenging the Prime Minister to show that the sacrifices of troops “have not been in vain”.

Amid growing frustration over the death toll, Tory leader, David Cameron, yesterday said it was a “scandal” that British forces lacked vital equipment, including helicopters.

Mr Miliband reinforced the Government’s commitment to the conflict, claiming it was essential to prevent Afghanistan from again becoming an “incubator for terrorism” that serves as a launching pad for attacks on the West.

“This is about the future of Britain because we know that the badlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan – that border area – have been used to launch terrible attacks, not just on the United States, but on Britain as well,” he said.

“We know that until we can ensure there is a modicum of stability and security provided by Afghan forces for their own people, we are not going to be able to be secure in our own country.”

In a letter to senior MPs yesterday Mr Brown stoutly defended his Afghan policy, saying the global terror threat that sparked the invasion in 2001 remained a danger. Mr Brown also told the liaison committee, in advance of his appearance before them this week: “We will, of course, continue to review force levels, based on the advice of our commanders and discussions with allies.”

The Chancellor, Alistair Darling, also emphasised Britain’s commitment to provide whatever equipment British troops might need, and pointed to the extra troops sent in preparation for the elections, but said the figures were being constantly reviewed.

But a senior MoD source yesterday said the Prime Minister wanted up to 1,500 personnel – troops and support staff – pulled out of Afghanistan once the election campaign is concluded. The decision conflicts with demands for an Obama-style surge to defeat the Taliban threat, and comes only weeks after Mr Brown rejected a request from defence chiefs for 2,000 more troops.

An MoD spokesman confirmed yesterday that hundreds of troops would be returning after the election – although he said any withdrawal would involve 700 troops sent in “temporarily” in April to help maintain security ahead of the elections. He added: “This is an international mission to which the UK is the second largest troop contributor. UK forces are doing a large part of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan, having provided the vast majority of international forces in the most difficult province in the country for the past three years.

“While we will continue to keep the position under review, there is no plan to reduce troop numbers by 1,500 from their current levels.”

But critics said the rising death toll demanded an increase in troop numbers beyond the current 9,000 – not a reduction – and warned that, failing a change of plan under political pressure following last week’s deaths, the military was falling victim to government cuts.

The shadow Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, said: “Commanders have been telling us that they need more boots on the ground. To be reducing the numbers seems to fly in the face of military need. It would be a disaster if Labour were to make decisions on deployment based on political interest and not the safety and welfare of our armed forces.”

Colonel Clive Fairweather, a former SAS commander, said there were also rumours about cuts in infantry battalions in the years ahead. He added: “This surge is for 20 August, but it’s no good just to have it for then. You’ve got to have it permanently, you’ve got to be able to hold the ground and at the moment the Afghan army is not big enough to hold the ground. If there were 2,000 more troops there now the casualties would probably be lighter.

“I think it would be a terrible mistake to take troops away in October, both from an operational point of view and a morale point of view – it’s disastrous when in fact there should be 2,000 more actually there now. Frankly, any talk of bringing troops back would leave a very bitter taste in the mouth all round.”

The US President, Barack Obama, last night said that coalition partners would consider increasing their contribution to Afghanistan after the election on 20 August. He also signalled that the move would not necessarily mean more troops.

He added: “My heart goes out to the families of those [fallen] British soldiers. Great Britain has played an extraordinary role in this coalition, understanding that we cannot allow either Afghanistan or Pakistan to be a safe haven for al-Qa’ida.”

Britain’s Afghan brigades

The ‘pull out now’ brigade

Robin Beste Stop the War Coalition

“There is no possibility of stability or security in Afghanistan while a single foreign soldier remains in the country.”

Paul Flynn Labour MP

“We created the insurgency by our presence in 2006. Ministers sleepwalked into Helmand and changed what was a manageable situation into one that is now unwinnable.”

Correlli Barnett Military historian

“Without such a brave decision [to pull out], British servicemen and women will go on pointlessly dying, while a more and more disillusioned nation simply wants our troops home.”

Boris Gromov Ex-commander of the 40th army in Afghanistan

“The international forces must leave Afghanistan alone militarily, and switch to [solving its] economic problems. This would benefit all.”

The ‘we have to commit – or withdraw’ brigade

Nick Clegg Liberal Democrat leader

“Gordon Brown must stop pretending that this is somehow someone else’s conflict. The Government is willing the ends, but not willing the means.”

David Cameron Conservative leader

“The Government must explain its strategy in Afghanistan, and how it will ensure success. Above all, it must urgently provide the key equipment, such as helicopters, our troops need.”

Colonel Bob Stewart Ex-commander of British forces in Bosnia

“The armed forces were promised all the means necessary to achieve operational effectiveness – equipment, transport, and manpower. We should do the job properly.”

Dr John Nagl President of the Center for a New American Security

“The British commitment is absolutely essential to holding southern Afghanistan, now that so many UK soldiers have given their lives to clear it.”

The ‘don’t panic’ brigade

Gordon Brown Prime Minister

“Our resolve to complete the work that we have started in Afghanistan is undiminished. We must help deliver a free and fair presidential election in Afghanistan.”

David Miliband Foreign Secretary

“This is about the future of Britain, as we know the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan have been used to launch terrible attacks, not just on the US but on Britain as well.”

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup Chief of the Defence Staff

“The Taliban … are losing. But it’s going to take time and alas it does involve casualties, but there will be the opportunity for considerably greater governance for the people of Helmand.”

Dr David Kilcullen Counter-insurgency adviser to US

“I feel a greater degree of confidence in Afghanistan today than in the past six months. We are finally starting to take the fight to the enemy in the south and east.”

The military brigade

General Stanley McChrystal Head, US and Nato forces in Afghanistan

“We must avoid the trap of winning tactical victories but suffering strategic defeats. The Taliban cannot militarily defeat us, but we can defeat ourselves.”

Field Marshall Lord Bramall Former chief of defence staff

“Our best hope at the moment is the new US strategy and extra troops to give it our best shot for the next year or so and hope we can get some sort of stability there.”

General Sir Hugh Beach Ex-deputy commander, British land forces

“They ought to be sending the extra 2,000 men the generals asked for, as it’s obvious that if we’re going to get anywhere, it’s troops on the ground that are going to cut the mustard.”

Pavel Grachev Soviet general

“I believed as sincerely as US officers do now that we were fighting there to help make our country safer. After the war, as a politician, I could see this war had been pointless.”


Afghanistan in a serious state, UK minister warns

July 10, 2009

* Situation in Afghanistan serious, minister says
* Seven British troops killed in past week
* There is no defined end in sight, patience needed

By Luke Baker

LONDON, July 8 (Reuters) – Britain’s defence secretary, making his first speech since being promoted to head the ministry last month, said on Wednesday the war in Afghanistan was a serious struggle that needed patience.

“Let us be under no illusion,” Bob Ainsworth, the third person to head the Ministry of Defence in the past nine months, told the Royal Institute for International Affairs.

“The situation in Afghanistan is serious, and it is not yet decided. The way forward is hard and dangerous. More lives will be lost and our resolve is going to be tested.”

Seven British soldiers have died in the past week in southern Afghanistan, where British forces have launched a large-scale operation against the Taliban alongside U.S. troops.

In total, 176 British troops have died there since 2001, just three fewer than the number who died fighting in Iraq.

Most of those killed in the past month were hit by roadside bombs, with the Taliban using sophisticated technology and ever-larger amounts of explosives to detonate substantial IEDs under armoured British and American vehicles.

The techniques being deployed mirror those previously used by insurgents in Iraq, experts say, and present a serious challenge to the ability of U.S., British and other NATO troops to seize and hold terrain, and then move freely around it.

Britain, which first deployed to southern Afghanistan in 2006 and now has 9,000 troops there, has battled to bring stability to the region, only ever managing to secure small patches of territory around larger towns in Helmand province.

The United States has now sent around 10,000 Marines to the region to bolster the force as part of President Barack Obama’s new “surge” strategy for Afghanistan ahead of presidential elections to be held in August.

HIGHLY ADAPTABLE ENEMY

Ainsworth, who visited Afghanistan last week, praised the resilience of the troops fighting in Helmand, but spoke about the challenges of the operation, and the difficulty of tackling the Taliban’s use of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).

“We are engaged in a war against a dangerous and highly adaptable foe whose tactics and capabilities evolve as quickly as ours,” he said.

“We strive to provide our troops with the support they need but the nature of the fight means we will take more casualties before we succeed.”

A criticism levelled at the government by ex-servicemen and defence experts is that it has failed to get sufficient numbers of heavy lift helicopters and better armoured vehicles into the war zone, leaving troops on the ground stretched and vulnerable.

Ainsworth said Britain’s “borrowing” of U.S. helicopters to launch its latest offensive merely showed the cooperation between the allies, and said more armoured vehicles — with better defences against IEDs — would be delivered next year.

“This is a complex situation with problems that are inter-linked and sometimes deeply entrenched,” he said, referring to Pakistan and the movement of Taliban across the border, as well as governance problems in Afghanistan.

Afghans, he said, would eventually take over the running of their own country and defend themselves, with 170,000 Afghan soldiers and police now in uniform. But it would take time.

“This is not going to happen tomorrow, nor in a few short weeks or months,” he said. “If we are to succeed, we will need both the courage and the patience to see it through. There is no defined end date — only an end state.”

(Reporting by Luke Baker; Editing by Myra MacDonald)


Mulla Omar backs Afghan peace talks

March 17, 2009

By: ashrafuddin

Taliban chief Mulla Omar has given his approval for talks aimed at ending the war in Afghanistan and allowed his representatives to attend the Saudi-sponsored peace negotiations.

“Mulla Omar has given the green light to talks,” said one of the mediators, Abdullah Anas, a former friend of Osama bin Laden who used to fight in Afghanistan but now lives in London. One of those negotiating for the Afghan government confirmed: “It’s extremely sensitive, but we have been in contact, both with Mulla Omar’s direct representatives and commanders from the front line.”

The breakthrough emerged after President Barack Obama admitted that the US-led forces were not winning the war in Afghanistan and called for negotiations with “moderate Taliban”.“A big, big step has happened,” Anas said. “For the first time, there is a language of… peace on both sides.”

His words were echoed by Qayyum Karzai, the brother of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has been attending talks on his behalf. “I have been meeting with Taliban for the last five days and I can tell you Obama’s words have created enormous optimism,” said Qayyum Karzai.

“There is no other way left but talks. All sides know that more fighting is not the way,” he said. As Britain and the US have increased troop numbers over the past two years, security has worsened, leading many to doubt the wisdom of sending in more.

A Sunday Times poll showed that 64 per cent of respondents favoured talking to the Taliban to achieve a deal. Some 69 per cent said the aim of stabilising Afghanistan was not sufficiently worthwhile to risk the lives of British troops and 64 per cent thought the war could never be won.

Although observers question why the Taliban would agree to talks when they appeared to have the upper hand in the conflict, Anas said its leaders knew they could not retake power without a bloodbath.

“Taliban are in a strong position now, but that doesn’t mean they can control the state,” he said. “They are well aware that it’s a different situation to 1996 when they swept to power because Afghans saw them as bringing peace,” he added.

Britain is also backing talks with the Taliban that could lead to their inclusion in the Afghan government and is pushing for a “reconciliation czar” to coordinate efforts. “Economic development and a workable reconciliation strategy are as crucial as boots on the ground when it comes to dismantling the insurgency,” said British Foreign Secretary David Miliband.


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