Monday, 26 October 2020
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By Colin Clark

In what appears to be the first official expression of deep concern on the Hill about the war in Afghanistan, the House spending bill report says the appropriations committee is "concerned" about an "open-ended U.S. commitment" in a country long known for "successfully rebuffing foreign military intervention."

Although the House Appropriations Committee did not use the blunt tool of cutting spending for the war, which would bring howls of protest that they were shortchanging troops in the field, the committee wants a detailed update from the National Security Advisor and the Defense Secretary every 180 days. The report will include an administration assessment of "the overall prospects for lasting stability in Afghanistan."

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By George Friedman

U.S. and allied forces began their first major offensive in Afghanistan under the command of U.S. Gen David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal this July. Inevitably, coalition casualties have begun to mount. Fifteen British soldiers have died within the past 10 days — eight of whom were killed within a 24-hour period — in Helmand province, where the operation is taking place. On July 6, seven U.S. soldiers were killed in separate attacks across Afghanistan within a single day, and on July 12 another four U.S. soldiers were reported killed in Helmand.

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By Kamran Bokhari

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia historically has played a major role in the development of jihadism. Key pillars of the Saudi state - oil, Wahhabism (a conservative form of Sunni Islam) and the strength of tribal norms - were instrumental in facilitating the rise of Islamist extremism and terrorism around the world prior to 9/11. These same pillars allowed Riyadh to contain al Qaeda within Saudi Arabia in the wake of the insurgency that kicked off in the kingdom in 2003-2004. After this success on the home front, Riyadh is still using these pillars to play an international role in counterjihadist efforts - a role welcomed by the United States.

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By Elayne Jude, Great North News Services

Somewhere in Afghanistan a man kneels in front of an open suitcase. He's a figure of some power and influence locally; may be the village headman, or the patriarch of a particular clan. The suitcase been handed to him by an American. Inside, row after row of crisply banded dollar bills, of a denomination that can be usefully brandished in the world's sixth poorest country.

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By George Friedman

After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan - raising the question of what exactly ARE the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.

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Max Boot, Los Angeles Times wrote:

President Obama and his aides continue to impress with their handling of Afghanistan. Not only have they approved a major troop increase and a de facto commitment to nation-building, but now they have shifted personnel to make the most effective use of the added resources and turn around a failing war effort.

The big news is that Army Gen. David D. McKiernan is out after just 11 months as the top commander. He will be replaced by Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal. Just as important, if less heralded, is the decision to appoint Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who had previously served in Afghanistan as commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, as the second-ranking commander. His role will be vital: to help the overstretched NATO staff pull together its disjointed war effort.

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By George Friedman

After U.S. airstrikes killed scores of civilians in western Afghanistan this past week, White House National Security Adviser Gen. James L. Jones said the United States would continue with the airstrikes and would not tie the hands of U.S. generals fighting in Afghanistan. At the same time, U.S. Central Command chief Gen. David Petraeus has cautioned against using tactics that undermine strategic U.S. goals in Afghanistan — raising the question of what exactly are the U.S. strategic goals in Afghanistan. A debate inside the U.S. camp has emerged over this very question, the outcome of which is likely to determine the future of the region.

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by Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia - Council on Foreign Relations

Recommendation: Shift from AfPak to PakAf.

The Obama administration should recalibrate its strategy to emphasize the priority of the mission in Pakistan and to prepare domestic and international audiences for expanded, sustained U.S. engagement in South Asia. The present approach—professing narrow counter terror goals while seeking expanded state-building resources in Afghanistan and Pakistan—may be a politically astute means to garner early support, but runs the risk of confusing the American public (as well as U.S. allies and adversaries) down the road about Washington's true intentions. That confusion is likely to make a costly commitment to the region harder to justify and sustain over the long run.

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By Daniel Markey, Senior Fellow for India, Pakistan, and South Asia - Council on Foreign Relations


President Barack Obama publicly unveiled his administration's so-called AfPak (Afghanistan-Pakistan) strategy on March 27, 2009. Over the subsequent weeks, the White House has also briefed relevant congressional leaders and committees, the media, NATO allies, and other regional and international partners. The U.S. House of Representatives has moved ahead with its own legislative debate (the PEACE bill), and the administration recently submitted a 2009 supplemental budget request consistent with its new strategy.

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By Professor Shaun Gregory

We should not fool ourselves that there are any simple levers that can be pulled to make Pakistan play a more constructive role in tackling the Taliban and other militants and terrorists on its side of the border, without which the situation in Afghanistan cannot be stabilised. However there are some clear areas which ought to be the focus of detailed policy attention in co-operation with the United States and - where relevant - our other partners and potential partners in the region:

(1) We must shift the focus of our energies from the military in Pakistan to the civilian leadership and expand our partners in Pakistan to include all those who can take Pakistan forward: business, civil society, political parties, NGOs etc. This must include some Islamist parties who eschew violence;

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By Rep Ike Skelton, Chairman, US Congress House Armed Services Committe

On 2nd April the House Armed Services Committee meets in open session to receive testimony on the New Strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan and Developments in U.S. Central Command and Special Operations Command. The witnesses : the Honorable Michèle Flournoy, Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; General David Petraeus, commander of United States Central Command; and Admiral Eric Olson, commander of United States Special Operations Command.

As we begin to consider the new Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy, let me just say, it's about time. In 2001, United States forces, in cooperation with the British and Afghan forces, forced the Taliban out of power. As near as I can tell, that was the last time we had a strategy for Afghanistan.

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By Graham Moonie

Figures from the UN show that Opium production in Afghanistan fell in 2008. This is only the second time production in the region has not risen since an all time low under the Taliban in 2001.

Opium production trends

Opium production in Afghanistan has been increasing steadily for the last twenty years with a particular surge in 2006 and 2007. This two year period produced record crops with production increased in all areas of the country, not just in the traditional growing areas in the fertile south and west.

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By Nigel Green, research associate, UK Defence Forum

More than 500 Royal Marines have taken part in a massive operation against the Taliban in Afghanistan which utilised both hard and soft power. Supported by 60 Afghan National Army soldiers, the marines spent one month in the field, killing suicide bombers and dealing with ambushes by insurgents armed with AK47s and RPGs. Ministry of Defence sources say dozens of Taliban fighters were killed, while the commandos suffered no serious injuries.

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The Pushtunwali is based on 10 main principles: Melmastia (hospitality and protection to every guest); Nanawati (the right of a fugitive to seek refuge, and acceptance of his offer of peace when earnestly meant); Badal (the right of blood feuds or revenge); Turah (bravery); Sabat (steadfastness); Imandari (righteousness); 'Isteqamat (persistence); Nang (solidarity among the clan), Ghayrat (defence of property and honour); and Namuz (defence of one's honour and women).

The implications of these should be clear for any occupying army. What also becomes clear, and what is so often overlooked in the West, is that the Al-Qaida leadership made a very shrewd choice indeed when they sought sanctuary in Waziristan after Tora Bora. As the government in Islamabad learned to its own cost in 2005, the tribesmen of the region are duty bound to defend their charges to the death. To contravene both the precepts of Melmastia and Nanwati would be unthinkable to most traditionally minded tribesmen. Certainly, those Arab militants who had spent so much time recuperating in Peshawar during lulls in the fighting with the Soviets know that full well.

The Pashtuns

When the tribes that coalesced to form the Pashtun/Pakthan or Pathan people converted to Sunni Islam, they retained their traditional customary code. This is shared by the Abdals/Durranis, Afridis, Ghilzai, Waziris and many others. Whilst at times it has sat uneasily alongside the Shariah, Hanafi jurisprudence is pragmatic enough to allow the two to co-exist. It is the inherent flexibility of the Hanafi medhab (school of jurisprudence) that owed in large measure to the longevity of the Ottoman Empire far to the west of Afghanistan. Successive generations of sultans, guaranteed the loyalty of their diverse Muslim subjects, precisely by not interfering with their own traditional codes and systems of vendetta. This was as true in northern Albania amongst the mountain peoples of the Malesi, or the Kurds of Anatolia. This shared adherence to the Hanafi medhab was also the reason why the British High Command felt it necessarily to withdraw Afridi units from service in the Middle East during the Great War. The Deobandis of northern India were closely connected with the Naqshbandiyya tarikat (Sunni Sufi order) of the late Ottoman state, and Sultan Abdulhamid II had exploited this link prior to the war to incite Muslims along the North West Frontier against the British.

Unlike the Kurds, the Pashtuns are largely united by their adherence to Sunni Islam. They share a common "Pashto" tongue, if varying much according to dialect and, a contiguous ancestral homeland. Furthermore, they constitute perhaps 40 million souls, with 12 million falling inside Afghanistan and the rest predominantly in Pakistan. If a charismatic leader ever arose among them popular enough to unite the tribes and clans on both sides of the border, the potential for unrest would be enormous. Up until now since the birth of Pakistan, the catalyst for such an event has been lacking.

The risk is that NATO's presence, if mismanaged, could provide that impetus. There is more than circumstantial evidence to support the case that the occupation of southern Afghanistan is increasingly seen as a war against the Pashtun people. We in the west make a grave error if we believe that the primary risk to our troops comes from the religious fanaticism inspired by the Taliban. Contrary to most people's preconceptions, Muslims across Afghanistan, including the Pashtun, have favoured a pragmatic interpretation of the various sects they adhere to. Whilst particular Pashtun clans might be more susceptible than others to Salafist propaganda; they all share a fierce commitment to Pashtun patriotism. The allegiance to and, maintenance of, the Pashtunwali, is a primary component of that.

There are earlier precedents, of such strongmen emerging and leading the tribes against an infidel enemy. In 1747, Ahmed Shah Abdal united the clans and went on to found an empire. He came to be known as Ahmed Shah Durrani because the title "Durr-I-Durrani" or, "Pearl of Pearls", was bestowed upon him. Today, he is often referred to as Ahmed Shah Baba and he is seen as the father of the Afghan state.

There is an even more unsettling element to how he came to unite the Pashtuns. He declared a jihad. As those who stood in his path were the Hindu Marathas of northern India and the Sikh state of the Punjab, this was a popular strategy. He quashed a Maratha army reputed to be 100,000 strong at Panipat in 1761 before marching onto to the Holy Sikh city of Amritsar. The civilian inhabitants of which, he put to the sword before desecrating the temple precinct with bulls' blood.

The lessons of history in the area once known as the North West Frontier of the British Raj should not be ignored.

In a largely oral culture, such as that of the Pashtuns, the military exploits of each constituent tribe and clan from far off times are a much-venerated element within the local folklore. The battle of Gandamak1 still means much more to the Afridis of today than it ever did to Pinewood filmmakers. So it should come as no surprise to learn that when Taliban recruiters sow their propaganda on both sides of the Durand Line, they make much of the irrefutable reality that the British are back. Calculatedly, this tugs the heart- strings of those Pashtun patriots upon whose ears their more usual Salafist inspired sedition had until now, fallen deaf.


The Taliban are as much a product of Pashtun society as they are of Deobandism. This Sunni religious revivalist movement, rooted in the Hanafi medhab school of jurisprudence/doctrine, sprang up following the Indian Mutiny of 1857 as a riposte to British colonialism and Hindu militancy.

Like the Taliban of the 1990's which they spawned, the Deobandis of the mid nineteenth and twentieth centuries based themselves around Islamic seminaries, or madrassas, the first of which they established in the town of Deoband near New Delhi; hence their name. By 1967, they had founded 9,000 madrassas across the subcontinent, many in northern Pakistan. During the 1980's, they provided the ideological glue that held the diverse strands of the Afghan mujaheddin together in their fight against the Soviets. Whether opposing the British under the Raj, the Politburo in Moscow, or the United States today; the enemy is immaterial because the cause remains the same; al- kafirun/the Infidel must leave the Dar ul-Islam/ Islamic world.

Although both are "Salafi" in their doctrines, where the Taliban and the traditional Deobandis so widely differ is that the later do not entirely reject modernity, but instead strive to formulate a genuinely Islamic brand of modernism.

The Talibs, as more austere Salafists, simply wish to restore the contemporary world back to the conditions of the Salaf as-Salih/Righteous Ancestors (companions of the Prophet Muhammad) back in the late 7th century AD. It was the Deobandis, moreover, who launched the JUI political party (Jamiat-e Ulema Islam) in Pakistan in 1962 which later split into various offshoots. One of these is led by a Pakistani senator named Maulana Samiul Haq. No less than eight Taliban cabinet ministers graduated from his Dar ul-Uloom Haqqania madrassa in Akhora Khatak in the North West Frontier Province. His is not alone, in being a splinter group from the original JUI, that has, nonetheless, remained true to its core traditions rooted in Deobandi evangelism and trained many of today's Taliban. After all, a talib is, by definition, nothing more than a madrassa student.

More lessons of history

Besides the innumerable Deobandi madrassas, there are other reminders of an earlier British presence, scattered across the remote valleys of the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of northernmost Pakistan. Whether, those "aides memoirs", take the form of long abandoned military cemeteries, or the very border itself, as it snakes its way along the peaks delineating Afghanistan from Pakistan for some 1,500 miles, they are ever present. The writ of the central government inIslamabad doesn't count for much in neighbouring North West Frontier Province either. Just like their British predecessors, today's bureaucrats attempting to maintain a semblance of state sanctioned law and order still rely heavily on the local "maliks", or tribal elders, to make things work on the ground. Without their active cooperation, not much is achievable.

To show just how much things have stayed the same in this conservative society, the Pakistani government still administers the region according to the tenets of the Frontier Crimes Regulation, devised by the office wallahs of the Raj. Not surprisingly then, both the Taliban and Al-Qaida have been waging an active assassination campaign for the last two years, targeting those maliks who give their loyalty to Islamabad and not to them. At the end of the 2006 Ramadan they issued a declaration proclaiming that, from the end of Eid ul-Fitr, the inhabitants of the NWFP and Tribal Territories would pay their taxes to them and not the Pakistani state.

The border is named after the Foreign Secretary of the British colonial government of India, Sir Mortimer Durand, who devised and implemented it in 1893, expressly to divide the Pashtun/Pathan ancestral lands, in order to make the situation more manageable at the time. Not that the local inhabitants have ever paid much heed to it and commonly refer to the provinces that fall on either side of the line as the "Pakhtunkhwa", or "Land of the Pathans/Pashtuns." Both the Pakistani government and NATO forces in southern Afghanistan are perceived as interloping outsiders by those who owe their allegiance to the Pashtunwali. When combined with the traditional popularity among many of those same Pashtun clans for the missionary zeal of the Deobandis, then perhaps one can better appreciate the explosive potential of the situation in Pakhtunkhwa. As recently as September 2005, when Pervez Musharraf mooted the idea publicly of building a security fence along the Afghani/Pakistani border, many opposing him on both sides of the Durand Line, invoked the cause of Pakhtunkhwali.


In the pantheon of glorious British military defeats and retreats, besides Dunkirk, none looms larger from out of the mists of time, than the ill-fated campaign of the First Anglo-Afghan War A force of some 16,000- drawn largely from Indian units and the 44th Regiment of Foot of the British Army- was mercilessly picked off, as it strove to fight its way back from Kabul in the face of a local uprising. This culminated in their massacre at Gandamak, halfway between Jalalabad and the capital. The only British survivor to make it back alive across the Hindu Kush, was one Dr William Brydon, an Assistant Army Surgeon from Ireland. He was the sorry figure of the lone rider whose all ridden out pony trundles forlornly across the canvas of the Remnants of an Army by Lady Elizabeth Butler.

Even long after the passing of Viceroy Mountbatten and the departure of the sahibs and memsahibs on steamers westward bound the Indian and Pakistani militaries both still honour the memories of those who campaigned along the frontier with Afghanistan. Somewhere along the way, however, we in the UK, have cast off the centuries of experience and collective learning that our steadier forebears amassed. It is the proposition of this paper that we urgently rediscover our "Orientalist" treasure trove of academic and anthropological knowledge, so that we can avoid the pitfalls that we shall undoubtedly encounter.

A simple truth is that while political tastes and mores may come and go with the passage of time, history endures. In the tribal territories of northern Pakistan, legacies from Britain's imperial past still endure and inform daily realities on the ground. More importantly still, they shape people's attitudes towards the presence of our troops in Helmand and other NATO forces all the way along the Pakistani border to Laghman.


By Nigel Green, Research Associate, U K Defence Forum

American government investigators working in Afghanistan have revealed "major weaknesses" in development programmes which have received around $32 billion.

Retired US Marine Corps Major General Arnold Fields was brought in to look at delays caused by security fears, corruption and even goods held up by customs' departments in neighbouring countries.

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By George Friedman

Washington's attention is now zeroing in on Afghanistan. There is talk of doubling U.S. forces there, and preparations are being made for another supply line into Afghanistan - this one running through the former Soviet Union - as an alternative or a supplement to the current Pakistani route. To free up more resources for Afghanistan, the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq probably will be accelerated. And there is discussion about whether the Karzai government serves the purposes of the war in Afghanistan. In short, U.S. President Barack Obama's campaign promise to focus on Afghanistan seems to be taking shape.

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By Nick Watts

UK Conservative MPs met the NATO Secretary General (Jaap de hoop Scheffer) on 26th January 2009. He outlined what he saw as the priorities for NATO at the forthcoming 60th anniversary summit, being held on April 3rd – 4th at Strasbourg. These are:

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By George Friedman

Candidate Obama said much about what he would do as president; now we will see what President Obama actually does. The most important issue Obama will face will be the economy, something he did not anticipate through most of his campaign. The first hundred days of his presidency thus will revolve around getting a stimulus package passed. But Obama also is now in the great game of global competition - and in that game, presidents rarely get to set the agenda.

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by Paula Jaegar

Later this year General Sir Richard Dannatt will step down as UK Chief of the General Staff, ending a career spanning almost four decades. No doubt gongs and plaudits will continue to crown him. But little, I suspect, can please him more than his reputation as the soldier's soldier. At the heart of his leadership is his constant and unfailing duty of care to the rank and file. And the core of his success is his realisation that in the end it all comes down to the training, equipping, condition and morale of every single man and woman under his command.

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By Anthony King

On 19 June 2006, British troops from 16 Air Assault Brigade's 3rd Battalion The Parachute Regiment, deployed into Sangin. It was and remains a defining moment of the Helmand campaign.

The circumstances of the deployment are instructive. The commander of 16 Air Assault Brigadier, Brigadier Ed Butler who had just flown into Lashkar Gar, contacted Lieutenant Colonel Stuart Tootal, the Commanding Officer of 3 PARA, on the radio: 'Stuart, we have got reports coming in that the district centre is about to fall. If we are going to reduce the risks to helicopters we need to use the cover of darkness and go before first light. Given that dawn is less than three hours away, I need to know whether you can launch the mission in the next 90 minutes'.

Tootal and his tactical headquarters 'quickly rehashed the pros and cons', rightly observing that they 'were here to support the government of Afghanistan'. However, the ultimate impetus for insertion was primarily regimental: 'Finally we were Paras and being asked to do difficult and risky things was what we were meant to be about'. Tootal confirmed that he was ready to deploy for a 24 hour operation only 20 minutes after Ed Butler's initial communication.

Four years and over a 120 dead British soldiers later, the withdrawal of British troops from Sangin has just been announced. Having lost 13 men (including attachments) in two months, 40 Commando Royal Marines, who are currently holding the line in the Upper Sangin Valley, will be replaced by a US Marine Corps brigade in the coming months. The Marines will suffer numerous casualties in Sangin but they, unlike the British, may have the combat power to secure the area.

It is clear now that Ed Butler and subsequent British commanders underestimated the scale of the problem in Sangin. Sangin is a dense population centre some 30 miles north-east of Lashkar Gar and its location and geography present intense difficulties for any security force.

Sangin is on the junction of the Helmand and the Musa Qala Rivers and has long been the centre of narco-trafficking in southern Afghanistan with routes running north to Kabul, east to Kandahar and west to Iran.

As a result of its association with drugs trafficking, Sangin is deeply significant to local magnates, including the Taliban, whose wealth and power is based on opium. In 2006, Sher Mohammend Akhundzada, who was the governor of Helmand under Karzai until his removal in 2005 when nine tonnes of heroin was found in his compound by the FCO, was one of the most powerful figures in the valley. His family influence endures to this day.

The presence of unwanted British troops represented a serious challenge to the dominant economic and political interests in Sangin, precipitating much of the fighting. Further complicating the situation,

the Upper Sangin Valley is fragmented by tribal and communal politics which has engendered high levels of hostility not only between the villages but towards any outsiders. Moreover, in the summer, the irrigated fields around the Helmand River become as vegetated as jungle while each farm compound, with thick mud-baked walls, forms perfect defensive positions; it is close and difficult country.

Apparently ignorant of the political and geographic complexities of Sangin, British troops were rapidly engaged in a desperate battle of survival in Sangin. On several occasion in 2006, the platoon house in Sangin district centre was in danger of being overrun and from 2008, as insurgents changed their tactics, British troops have been encased in belts of lEDs which have now costs scores of lives and prevented any substantial progress.

In many cases from 2006 right up to the present, the British have not been fighting a unified insurgency with a clearly identifiable goal: the 'Taliban'. More typically, British troops have been engaged by local tribal militias (some associated with Akhundzada himself) often making alliances of convenience with local Taliban commanders who bring with them additional skills, resources and fighters.

The withdrawal from Sangin is necessarily an admission of failure — at least to some degree. British commanders did not understand the political dynamics in the valley and, crucially, despite a worsening situation from 2008, have been unable to generate sufficient force ratios to pacify the hostile population.

In a sense, the Upper Sangin Valley had echoes with the Ypres Salient in the First World War. In both cases, British forces were accidentally deployed into an unfavourable tactical situation from which, constrained by political imperatives, they could neither withdraw nor which they could improve. As on the western front, British infantry soldiers have simply had to endure in Sangin for four years.

Nevertheless, although the Sangin episode should certainly be sobering to officers up and down the chain of command and might usefully feature as a historical lesson on future staff courses, the withdrawal is only a local set-back. It is not evidence of the failure of the British campaign in Helmand more widely. On the contrary, the withdrawal should be welcomed. Since December 2008, British commanders have sought quite properly to focus on the central population area of Helmand in and around Lashkar Gar. Operations Sond Chara and Panchai Palang were evidence of this attempt to concentrate forces in that decisive ink-spot and, in February 2010, Operation Moshtarak was successful in deepening security around Lashkar Gar, in Nad-e-Ali and Narah-e-Saraj. British troops have sought to strengthen their hold of these areas since that time.

The relief of 40 Commando from Sangin — and future battle-groups that would have been stationed there—will be a major benefit to the prosecution of Britain's campaign in this area. It will provide commanders with the resources to execute a now coherent counter-insurgency plan.

In addition, it will reduce the logistics burden on the Helmand Task Force very considerably. In 2006, British paratroopers nearly starved in Sangin and eventually had to be supplied by a Canadian column in armoured vehicles. Logistics in Sangin improved thereafter, but sustaining operations in the Upper Sangin Valley has been a severe logistical problem. Every month, a Combat Logistic Patrol of some 200 vehicles, escorted by Apache and preceded by reconnaissance troops, has had to be driven from Camp Bastion, along Highway 1 and then up the desert, parallel to the lED-ed Route 611, to supply the Operating Bases in and around Sangin. These Patrols have represented British military ingenuity at its best but they also demonstrate the mistake of deploying into Sangin in the first place without the troop numbers to secure the lines of communication. For the last four years, Task Force Helmand has conducted a counter-insurgency operation on highly unfavourable exterior lines of communication.

The withdrawal from Sangin alters the entire geometry of the campaign in a single stroke. British forces are concentrated in the centre of Helmand close to the Main Operating Base at Camp Bastion with a vastly diminished logistics burden and reduced lines of communication. Current and future British commanders will benefit hugely from the increased tempo which follows this rationalisation of the force lay-down.

After the withdrawal from Sangin, Britain's Task Force Helmand will control an area of just over 200 square kilometres while the US Marines Expeditionary Force has taken command not only of Helmand but also of Nimroz and Farah as the new Regional Command South West.

Britain's mission has shrunk while the American contribution has expanded dramatically. This re-balancing of effort may deflate British pretensions somewhat. Yet, ironically, the current area of operation to which the British mission has been reduced is precisely the area identified in 2005 in the initial UK plan for Helmand.

The Bastion-Lashkar Gar-Gereshk triangle, where all UK troops now operate, was then rightly seen both as the decisive and as a manageable area for the level of the British commitment. The British concept of operations in this area is now coherent and mature; it represents the most likely chance of success in the province.

However, even with this increase of force ratios and logistical relief which the withdrawal will bring, British commanders might remember the central lesson of Sangin. Afghanistan is all about politics and even the 10,000 troops now dedicated to Lashkar Gar and its environs will not alone be enough if

British military and civilian leaders fail to understand and engage with the key political actors in Helmand.

It is finally these leaders, the powerbrokers, who will bring peace to Afghanistan, not NATO's forces however brave and skilful they have been.

About the author

Anthony King is a Professor in Sociology at the University of Exeter. His main areas of research are football, social theory and latterly, the military.

This article first appeared in the August 2010 edition Parliamentary brief, entitled 'Sangin is no loss', and is reproduced with permission.


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