Difficulties in trying to speed UK Afghan withdrawal

 
British soldier and chinook in Afghanistan Afghan forces are heavily reliant on Nato's helicopters and medical facilities

The desire of Britain's government to speed its withdrawal from Afghanistan is being tempered by requests from commanders to maintain their current strength until the end of the 2013 summer "fighting season".

This debate has mirrored the wider one in the US about whether the pace of withdrawal could go faster still.

Philip Hammond, the UK defence secretary, said recently "it will now be possible to have a significant reduction in force numbers by the end of next year".

However, the key point here is that calls from within Prime Minister David Cameron's Cabinet for these reductions, thought to be around 4,000 of the 9,000 British troops that will be in Afghanistan next summer, to be implemented even faster have not been answered - so far at least.

Lieutenant General Adrian Bradshaw, the British deputy commander of the Nato forces in Afghanistan, confirmed on Wednesday, "the drawdown will happen after next summer's fighting season".

The campaign has followed a rhythm in which insurgent activity tends to slacken by autumn, picking up again in March or April, following the harvest of opium poppies.

Medical evacuations

Given the general public's pessimism about the Afghan mission, revealed in polls, and its expense, the government is keen to cut back. It is estimated that the campaign there will have cost £20bn by 2014. At current force levels it is running at about £2.5bn a year.

The British force will drop by 500 troops this winter. But deeper cuts cannot be made quickly without exposing the limited capabilities of Afghanistan's own forces.

Military arguments against a more rapid drawdown have centred on the Afghan's inability to perform many operational tasks for themselves. Attempts to organise helicopter squadrons or bomb disposal units capable of dealing with Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) have been underway for a few years, but these capabilities are still inadequate.

One crucial area of dependence on Nato is casualty evacuation. Afghans are currently serviced by Nato's bespoke system of helicopter transfer to state of the art trauma facilities such as the hospital at Camp Bastion.

Lt Gen Bradshaw says that a basic Afghan national casualty evacuation system is meant to be operating "by early 2013". However it is hard to see the Afghan forces standing up anything similar to Nato's world class emergency medical facilities in the next few years.

US military 'enablers'

Nato forces will continue the pattern of the last year in reducing their participation in combat operations - a trend that has already played its part in a 40% drop in casualties over the past 12 months - but will find it harder to cut off air, intelligence, and logistic support.

In May this year the Americans and Afghans signed a security agreement that will involve thousands of US service men and women remaining beyond the 2014 deadline. These will include "enablers" making up the shortcomings in Afghan capabilities as well as some special operations forces.

Will the UK strike a similar deal? So far it has committed only to providing some support for future officer training. Could intelligence support or special forces be added to this? Certainly many in Whitehall assume there will be some kind of on-going role in these areas. However that will depend on the British and Afghan governments.

When British combat forces withdrew from Iraq in 2009, diplomats were shocked when they realised that the government in Baghdad did not want any enduring UK training mission to remain. The government of Nouri al-Maliki could not wait to see the back of the Brits.

In the case of Afghanistan there is less hostility on the part of the host government; the real question is whether the UK has the appetite to remain in any significant numbers beyond 2014.

 
Mark Urban, Diplomatic and defence editor, Newsnight Article written by Mark Urban Mark Urban Diplomatic and defence editor, BBC Newsnight

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  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 64.

    It would help if contributors stuck to the issue in the original article - the DRAWDOWN of troops. Troops are not bothered with politics. Drawdown has to be managed very carefully. The remaining troops have to be kept as safe as possible and have a clearly defined mission. The gap they leave must be filled.

    There is only one priority now. We must all work towards bringing home our troops SAFELY.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 63.

     
    Our troops are up against men who think that by shooting wee lassies in the head they are fulfilling God's will.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/theeditors/2012/10/malala_yousafzai_and_the_bbc.html

    Rules of Engagement are a liability when your enemy has no rules.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 62.

    56 - one arm tied behind our backs. This is the regular bleat of Americans about their bitter experience in Vietnam. Many problems are NOT solved through violence. A strategy to get rid of the taliban is to starve them of funds & support. That means pressure on the Pakistani services, and the Arab nations to stop their citizens joining them. This is a long term plan for a long term problem.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 61.

    For the nambi pambis Bush and Blair did not just wake up one day and say lets have a war in Iraq and Afghanistan. With different leaders the decision would have been the same. 9/11 was planned during Clinton presidency.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 60.

    A retreat always leaves more of a mess behind it and a bigger one back home.
    How much has this escapade on behalf of the Bush/Bliar coalition cost the poor and needy in the UK again?

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 59.

    Vietnam 2.0. When we leave the NVA, I mean the Taliban, will just move on in.

  • rate this
    -1

    Comment number 58.

    Costs of Iraq & Afghanistan wars - $1.3 TRILLION so far.
    60,000 Americans wounded or killed. Add to this problem of military suicides, & severe psychological distress of PTSD. How many more men must die or suffer for a policy that’s not close to succeeding? What could not be won in all these years, will not be won by 2014 or even 2020.
    The Taliban waits...pateintly...

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 57.

    @ 52.oldflatulence "the USA is actually the world's biggest warmonger"
    Liberty will only be maintained if people are prepared to fight for it. Thank God the USA is prepared to - a communist invasion of Viet Nam, the invasion of Kuwait, genocide in the Balkans, terrorists operating from Afghanistan. I sit safely in my European home thanks to American blood spilt to rid us of a vile dictator.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 56.

    Our troops are hamstrung by the ROEs...it's like fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. The "insurgents" set roadside bombs, shoot our boys in the back, use suicide bombers etc., and in return they're supposed to treat them in a gentlemanly fashion?! This is a dirty war, not a pheasant shoot on a country estate. Those marines should be acquitted.... ASAP!

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 55.

    Scott NYC- get your facts right. The Royal Marines in question have not been charged with murdering 'Afghan civilians.' They are accused of failing to treat an injured insurgent who had just been shooting at them, and got wounded in the firefight. They have still contravened ROE, which is why they have been charged, however it is quite a different matter from 'murdering Afghan civilians'.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 54.

    "Vietnamisation n."
    "The U.S. program of turning over to the South Vietnamese government responsibility for waging the conflict, in order to implement withdrawal of U.S. military personnel."
    The same policy in Afghanistan is heading for the same result. The Vietnam People's Army took 20 months to win South Vietnam after Western forces left. My guess is that the Taliban won't need that long.

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 53.

    Do I feel "Safer in my bed" because our boys are out there in Afghanistan? No...I do not! Billions of wasted £££s we can ill-afford and, more to the point, 100s of wasted lives! Bring them home ASAP! We can't change a culture. The typical Afghani was a peasant when we arrived and will still be a peasant when we leave. 'Twas ever thus.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 52.

    As long as Britain hangs on to the USA's shirt tails we will never be short of conflict somewhere in the world.
    Far from being the world's peacekeeper, the USA is actually the world's biggest warmonger, which invokes retaliation from those "lessser" countries.
    I believe our poodle relationship with the USA can only suck in our forces to more conflicts which cost our people's lives..

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 51.

    After reading about those Royal Marines charged with murdering Afghan civilians it seems there's only one possible timetable for British troops withdrawing. "As soon as possible"

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 50.

    Why? Get them out because we can't afford to have them there and then use the money to bolster immigration. After all isn't it about home security? That's what the politicians tell us.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 49.

    We have to have an appropriate strategy for withdraw agreed with our allies.

    If we don't then the next time we have a war and end up occupying a country with the agreement of a local govt they will base their trust of what we say we will do based on what we have done before.

    It would be nice not to have another war but looking at the quality of our govt's we will not be so lucky!

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 48.

    @26.tommygun "So British soldiers have to die because they wont stand up to who we perceive as the bad guys?"

    The people live a very severe and desolate existence at best. The infrastructure etc, we have put in place are helping these people to help themselves. To pull away so quickly would do more harm than good. Plus, we would ask what did the soldiers die for?

  • Comment number 47.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 46.

    Afganistan is an area on a map it is not and has never been a country.It can not be ruled or defeated. UK, USSR and USA have tried. Learn the lesson of history. Read Rory Stewart.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 45.

    Peter, You say Afganistan was no threat. It was the base of operations for an Organisation thats killed hundreds of British Citizens amongst thousands more on 9/11. The fundamental issue is that the resources were not put into rebuilding and securing Afganistan at the start. As for apologies and shame. The Taliban kill and maim as a standard. I'm proud of the forces who stand against that.

 

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