Saturday, August 12, 2006

Brits on the retreat in Helmland

Afghanistan is the scene of the Middle East's forgotten war, but Robert Fox's new post on the Guardian's Comment is Free blog throws some light on the situation in the country that became the first target of George Bush's War of Terror. Fox observes that the British forces in Afghanistan's Helmland province have effectively retreated in the face of attacks from insurgents that have claimed 10 lives in the last two months:

British troops were ordered to get out of their isolated forward bases in upper Helmand province, because they were deemed to be too vulnerable and beyond rescue if their opponents continued their efforts to overrun them...

Since May the British Maysan Task Force, led by 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment, have been trying to establish five or six "security zones" upcountry along the Helmand. The idea was that they would bring law and order, allowing reconstruction to flourish, and educate the farmers to abandon the opium poppy monoculture for tomatoes, pomegranates and even artichokes. Unfortunately the paras arrived just as the poppies were being picked. Word soon got out that the Brits had come to take away the crop, destroy livelihoods, wreck communities, and insult women.

The opponents of the Brits and the occupiers of Afghanistan as usually presented as Taliban retreads, but Fox suggests such a view is mistaken:

Contrary to international reports most of the fighters are not "Taliban"...Many are local tribesmen and villagers who just don't want the British - or any other foreigners - on their patch. Contrary to Nato intelligence calculations, they have been attacking in hundreds - virtually in battalion strength - and not the dozens that were expected. The British Nato troops have brought war and not much peace to Helmand.

Fox attributes the retreat of the Brits to military overstretch - they have only three and a half thousand men in the whole of Helmland - but I think that the domestic political consequences of an unexpectedly high toll of dead and wounded may also be a factor. I think that, thanks partly to the efforts of the anti-war movement, the British population is much more sensitive to troop losses in the War of Terror. When I was in Hull last year a man from the nearby town of Goole was killed in Iraq: his face dominated newspapers for days afterwards. It is fortunate for Tony Blair that British troops have been mainly stationed in the relatively quiet southern part of Iraq, where troop losses have not matched those suffered by the US in the Sunni triangle.


Anonymous Generic Viagra said...

I think that the domestic political consequences of an unexpectedly high toll of dead and wounded may also be a factor.

10:17 am  

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