David Blackburn

Concentration not capitulation

Concentration not capitulation
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There is a difference between a withdrawal and a retreat. Through no fault of its own, the British army was defeated in Basra and retreated. British troops will withdraw from Sangin in October to be re-deployed to bolster Britain’s main presence in central Afghanistan. Any attempt to present this decision as politically motivated, heralding the start of a British retreat from Afghanistan, should be rejected. British forces have not ‘lost’ in Sangin, or been deemed too ‘soft’ for the task. This is a military decision, inaugurating the surge’s next phase.

The logic is flawless. Troops in Helmand have been spread to thin; the Americans and British are concentrating their forces under their own leadership. All British troops will now be under British field command; previously the Sangin detachment of 1,000 men was under American control. The 10,000 strong British force will now be exclusively deployed in the strategically vital central area around Lashkar Gah. And it will be reinforced. Liam Fox has just told the House that substantial elements (perhaps 300 men) of the British reserve battalion in Cyprus will deploy to Helmand to act as shock troops over the course of the summer, and that £189million on new equipment will be made available. He also noted that other NATO allies will join the US Marine brigade in Northern Helmand after the handover of Sangin.  

Fox wants to show the other ‘side of the casualties ledger’, to convince the public that the war is being won. That can only be achieved by taking ground, winning hearts and minds and a visibly improved security situation – hence ISAF’s tactical concentration in Helmand. Whisper it, but the COINS strategy now has the personnel and material to succeed. For the first time in the campaign, strategists agree that there is a sufficient ratio of troops to population in Helmand. Now what is needed is the acceptance that Britain and the US are waging war in Helmand, and that the rules of engagement reflect that.