Posted by lex, on December 3, 2010
The continuing Wikileaks saga reveals a harsh evaluation of the UK’s performance in Helmand province, Afghanistan:
The criticism of the British operation in Helmand centres on its failure to establish security in Sangin – the town which has become totemic as the place that has claimed more British lives than any other in Afghanistan.
The Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal, told a US team led by the vice-president, Joe Biden, in January 2009 that American forces were urgently needed as British security in Sangin was inadequate and did not even extend to the town’s main bazaar, according to a cable sent from the US embassy in Kabul. “I do not have anything against them [the British] but they must leave their bases and engage with the people,” Mangal said.
In another cable in January 2009 the governor, who has received strong backing from the UK and the US, is reported to have delivered a scathing dressing down to British officials on the state of security in Sangin.
“Stop calling it the Sangin district and start calling it the Sangin base – all you have done here is built a military camp next to the city,” he said. British troops, the same cable reported, told US officials that immediately outside the town “cowboy country begins”.
To be fair, the Brits were always under-resourced in Helmand: Little to no airlift, borrowed air support when it was available and they probably fought as well as they could under the circumstances: The Brits suffered fully a third of their Afghanistan War casualties in Sangin. And they have had their heartbreaks there before.
But this, I think, is the most telling quote of all from the Guardian article:
“HMG wants to be completely in synch with the US when the president announces the rollout of our strategy in Afghanistan. [Gordon] Brown’s government is eager to avoid the inevitable loss of political capital that would result if the media and Conservative and Liberal Democrat opposition pounce on an apparent disconnect between US and UK views on the way forward in Afghanistan.”
This reveals – to me at least – a politically tinged obsession over the British campaign in Helmand. Taken together with the lack of forward support, it reveals a government whose concern was more about winning an election than pacifying a toxic district of narco-traffickers, Taliban insurgents, tribal rivalries and Pashtun nationalism: Faced with all this, and new names each year to be mourned over at the Cenotaph, government’s heart wasn’t in the fight.
You could expect a well-supported British soldier to fight valiantly for Britain, and ably for a noble cause his country supported. For a political party’s chances at the polls, probably not so much.