KABUL: British troops in southern Afghanistan could hand control of key areas to Afghan forces within months, the UK’s military commander in Helmand said. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said he hoped the Afghan army would “deliver security” in the most dangerous parts of the province by the end of the year. He said the local governor was keen to see Afghan troops take over in three hotspot towns in ” the heart of Helmand” and it was his job to help that happen.
We may see, by the end of this year, or beginning of next, areas where security is delivered by the Afghan army,” Brig Carleton-Smith said. “The priorities are Gereshk, Lahkagar and Sangin.” All three towns have claimed British lives. Lahkagar is the provincial capital and home of the UK headquarters. Gereshk controls the main road which links Helmand to the rest of Afghanistan.
Sangin, in the heart of the poppy-belt, is an old Taleban stronghold that witnessed the fiercest and bloodiest fighting between British troops and the Taleban. Brig Carleton-Smith arrived in Helmand last month. His troops have already suffered casualties at the hands of the insurgents, but he insisted beating the Taleban was not his top priority; winning the people is.
The Taleban have been clobbered,” he said, referring to a series of successful strikes against top level commanders. “They have been marginalised. The crux of the problem is the people. Training the Afghan army to take over from UK troops is a key part of Britain’s long-term exit strategy, but the Brigadier said it was unlikely there would be any immediate reduction in British troops once Afghan forces took over.
But the leading defence analyst, Tim Ripley, said the his words were a positive sign. “The British commander is showing greater confidence in having control of what’s going on,” he said. While British forces have been hit by bomb attacks, “We haven’t lost a soldier in a gun battle in Afghanistan since September,” Mr Ripley said.
That tells you the Taleban aren’t standing and fighting, they are disappearing into shadows. We are no longer in a stand- up war any more. This is a good sign.” Speaking at a joint British, Australian and Danish outpost overlooking Helmand’s fertile poppy fields, Brig Carleton-Smith said his objective for the next six months was to improve “human security”, including the threats from criminals and insurgents, as well as economic and social security. “To my mind, that is much better delivered by their own agencies than by the British,” he added, generating “Afghan self-reliance”.
What we would like to see is the interface with the Afghan farmers conducted by Afghan soldiers, because, inevitably, they have got a much better rapport with their own people,” he said. “You can’t expect a 19-year-old from Grimsby to understand an Afghan as well as an Afghan, just as you can’t expect an Afghan to understand a 19-year-old from Grimsby.”
The Afghan National Army has been one of the country’s few success stories since 2001, especially when it is compared to the corrupt and inept police force. There are already three battalions of Afghan troops based in Helmand, but they depend on help from their British mentors, for logistics, medical treatment and air support. That support will continue when they take control of the three key towns. The Brigadier cautioned that building up the Afghan army was a long-term process. When you are growing an army the currency is years,” he said. “Think 5-10 years. We have only had a British battle group here since October 2006. We have not been at this yet very long.”-SANA