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The seasonal flow of Helmand violence

Mark Urban | 15:23 UK time, Tuesday, 4 May 2010

The sad news of three British fatalities over the weekend in Afghanistan shows that while casualties may have reduced in the past month, Helmand is still a very dangerous place for Nato troops.

Having written last week about speculation that British operations may have been scaled back because of the UK general election, I received a number of messages from those in the know.

They denied any such idea, and seemed nettled by the idea that they as professional military or civil servants would have gone along with such naked political expediency.

Accepting their denial that there has been any deliberate British "go slow", and the latest evidence that soldiers are still falling there, the recent reduction of casualties is still worth noting.

As I wrote last week luck, good or bad, plays its part. One of the Royal Engineers who perished at the weekend, for example, died in a road accident.

The bigger part of this reduction though seems to be explicable in terms of the opium harvest.

A great many of the young men who are normally shooting at or bombing Nato are apparently too busy at the moment bringing in their crop.

My contacts point to a seasonal pattern where violence falls in the run up to the harvest and picks up again once it is in.

In much of Helmand this pattern is repeated later in the year, as there are two crops.

This pattern reveals its own truths. Firstly that much of the violence is perpetrated by local farmers rather than international jihadists or Pakistani madrassa students.

One Nato official indeed, has told me that they calculate three quarters of attacks on their forces are carried out by people acting within a few miles of their home.

How far this reveals that the rural Pashtun insurgency in Afghanistan is essentially a revolt against government by northerners (backed by their foreign paymasters) rather than a part of the wider struggle between the West and militant Islam is a matter for interpretation and argument.

The lull in fighting also begs questions about the Nato and Afghan government security effort too.

If violence dips during the harvest, to what extent can these security forces be said to hold the initiative?

Can recent security operations be said to have succeeded if rural Afghanistan still imposes its rhythm upon the troops rather than Nato or President Hamid Karzai being able to demonstrate a steadily falling graph of violence?


  • Comment number 1.

    given the new churchills choice policy that which is out of the 'imperialist handbook' perhaps we should examine a few other lessons from empire and why it requires an occupying power to constantly humiliate the population to keep control?

    all the usual imperialist arguments are raised in this

  • Comment number 2.


    To bring to Afghanistan all the horrors of USA/UK values: 'Money is for gambling', 'mothering is crap', 'children are mini-Mammons', 'never mind - alcohol numbs the pain'. (Add your own.)

    Mercenary, professional, armed forces do 'THE JOB THEY LOVE'. If paint-balling will not satisfy them, let them fight EACH OTHER, unless we are genuinely threatened at hearth and home. Any fool can see we have neither reason, nor right, to be using Afghanistan for war games.

    PLEASE will someone set Paxman on IDS over his blunder in whipping his Tory twits into backing Tony's War? And don't take "It seemed like a good idea at the time" as an answer.

    USA and UK are a long way from exemplary, democratic civilisations. We should be 'kept in' until we have learned how to behave globally.

  • Comment number 3.


    We are honourably against 'cruel and degrading punishment' and the torturer's mentality is anathema to us good folk. Yet some good person, in a laboratory, worked on GETTING NAPALM TO STICK TO SKIN and another devised FLESHETTES (needles to fill bullets, that create multiple hidden sites of infection - preventing further fighting, and tying up surgeon-time). Is the mind of the inventor of these, and other vile weapons, not similar in its thinking (how to inflict suffering) to that of the torturer? Perhaps it is different if we have Johnnie Foreigner in mind as receiver of these inflictions? It would seem that, while PC inspired accommodation of JF, in the bosom of Britain, knows no bounds, if he is foolish enough to stay in his own land, we will kick the carp out of him, at the drop of a bomb.

    Oh it's all making jolly good sense.

  • Comment number 4.


    iran for dessert sir?

  • Comment number 5.

    If Mark Urban is right and most of the insurgency is local tribesmen, one has to ask whats the point in committing a small divisions worth of troops?
    if Al Queda is in Pakistan and the threat is Morphing into small groups of self-radicalized terrorists,Aka the Glasgow Airport bombers and probably the Attempted Times Square bomber. Perhaps we should be thinking of withdrawning our forces and deploying them to places like Yemen or Somalia?

  • Comment number 6.

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

  • Comment number 7.

    5..Perhaps we should be thinking of withdrawning our forces and deploying them to places like Yemen or Somalia? ..

    academic studies have shown occupation causes suicide bombers. so if one wants [through a vested interest] the 'terror' to continue then more occupation is the way to go to ensure it continues?

    however if one wants peace and security the occupations should end.

  • Comment number 8.

    5 clusterbombunit wrote:

    'Perhaps we should be thinking of withdrawning our forces and deploying them to places like Yemen or Somalia?'


    Don't worry about Yemen or Somalia...the political classes will be re-deploying our forces back to the UK when the economic conditions here start to match those in Greece.


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