Monday, October 30, 2006

The first cuckoo of spring?

Lots of interesting information in the media over the weekend on the situation in Afghanistan. The Independent on Sunday reports that British soldiers have now stopped patrolling in the regional capital Lashkar Gah because the threat from suicide bombers is too great. A marine was killed in a similar bombing in the town ten days ago. It also suggests that the incoming Royal Marines Commando force, which has taken over from the Parachute Regiment, does not share the Paras' view that the Taliban have been tactically beaten. And the Royal Marines' view is that the aggressive defence forced on the Paras has been counter-productive. 'For every Taliban you kill', the 42 Commando spokesman is quoted saying, 'you recruit three or four more' . The view has not filtered down to the soldiers now confined to Camp Bastion, the British forces' base in the province. 'What we really want to be doing is fighting' one bored soldier tells the Mail on Sunday.

There has been less fighting recently in northern Helmand - possibly because of Ramadan or the poppy-planting season - but British troops guarding the hydro-electric dam across the river Helmand at Kajaki continue to be attacked. A Guardian article last week suggested that it was a botched special forces operation which precipitated the violence seen earlier this summer.

A fascinating question and answer session with David Loyn, who reported on the Taliban, last week (the report was the target of some kneejerk criticism) sheds more light on the complexity of the situation and helps explain why the Taliban enjoy the support they do.

Finally, Lord Guthrie, the former Chief of Defence Staff, is interviewed in the Observer. He reveals his scepticism of the chances of success in Afghanistan with the current levels of men deployed and, more damagingly, rightly questions whether Tony Blair's offer of 'whatever equipment' is needed can be delivered. And he makes a none too subtle swipe at John Reid, the former Defence Secretary who ill-advisedly expressed his hope that British troops would leave Afghanistan without firing a shot. 'Anyone who thought this was going to be a picnic in Afghanistan - anyone who had read any history, anyone who knew the Afghans, or had seen the terrain, anyone who had thought about the Taliban resurgence, anyone who understood what was going on across the border in Baluchistan and Waziristan [should have known] - to launch the British army in with the numbers there are, while we're still going on in Iraq is cuckoo.'

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