Nato strategy for leaving Afghanistan by 2015 is in disarray but David Cameron is still sending British soldiers to kill and die in a war that is both pointless and lost.
18 September 2012
THE NATO-LED MILITARY strategy in Afghanistan has been thrown into disarray after joint on-the-ground operations were suspended because of a collapse in trust over the killings of Americans and other Nato soldiers by Afghan government forces.
The move, which came after a surge in "insider attacks" by Afghan government soldiers and police officers that have killed 51 Nato soldiers in 36 attacks this year, threatens the joint plan to train an effective Afghan army to keep the Taliban at bay after troops start pulling out.
General John Allen, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, ordered the suspension of joint combat operations and patrols "until further notice".
The decision, which was announced in Washington, appeared to take the UK government by surprise, coming just a day after the defence secretary Philip Hammond defended Nato's continued work with Afghan troops in the Commons.
He said on Monday: "...it is essential that we complete the task of training the Afghan national security forces and increasing their capability so that they can take over the burden of combat as we withdraw. That is what we intend to do, and we will not be deterred from it by these attacks."
An MoD source said that everything the British army did in Afghanistan was in partnership with Afghans so it would have to look closely at how to continue operations while complying with the direction from the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf).
The source said: "We are very much partnered with the Afghans, literally everything is partnered with them right down to every level. We need to see what are the parameters for us ... it's for the individual countries working under Isaf to determine how they work through what Isaf wants to be done."
The chief US military officer, General Martin Dempsey, said the "insider attacks", in which four American and two British soldiers were killed at the weekend, were themselves "a very serious threat to the campaign" against the Taliban.
At least 12 such attacks were carried out last month alone, leaving 15 dead.
Nato said in a statement that "most partnering and advising" will now be at a battalion level and above, a significant pulling back by Nato forces from working with the Afghan military on the ground.
Joint operations at a lower level will now be "evaluated on a case by case basis" and only happen with the approval of regional commanders.
Nato said that in some places all on the ground collaboration will cease and foreign military advisers "will be stepping back to advise from the next level".
The US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, described the attacks as the "last gasp" of a weakened Taliban. But the admission that Nato troops are no longer safe from the forces they are relying on to keep the Taliban at bay after the final US pullout in two years is a severe blow to Washington's plans.
Under the strategy, members of the 350,000 strong Afghan security forces gain experience patrolling and fighting alongside American and other foreign soldiers. But the killings have led to a collapse in trust.
American, British and Afghan officials because increasingly alarmed at the attacks because of their impact on troop morale and public opinion in the US and UK.
However, the move still came as a complete surprise to British commanders, Whitehall officials have made clear.
The decision strikes at the heart of Nato – and British – strategy which is based on the assumption that foreign troops and Afghan security forces will work increasingly closely until the Afghans alone conduct all ground combat operations by the end of 2014.
Though British commanders were drawing up plans designed to protect their troops better against "insider" or "green on blue" attacks, defence officials are making clear that the Nato decision to suspend joint ground operations was unexpected.
Hammond told to the Commons on Monday that the latest attacks, including the killing of two British soldiers from 3 Battalion The Yorkshire Regiment on Saturday, could not be allowed to "derail" the training of Afghan security forces by British troops.
The Nato decision has driven a coach and horses through that plan, and raises a huge question mark over the manner in which the 9,000 British troops in Helmand will be reduced over the next two and a quarter years.
Hammond confirmed to MPs on Monday his remarks in an interview with the Guardian last week that his military commanders had advised that UK troops could withdraw faster than planned – a reversal of recent military advice. That advice may change again.
Under the new order, most joint patrols and advisory work with Afghan troops will only be conducted at the battalion level and above, while co-operation with smaller units will have to be "evaluated on a case-by-case basis and approved by RC (regional) commanders", Isaf said in a statement.
Hammond, discussed the attacks with President Karzai on a visit to Kabul last week, saying the problem was a huge concern and had to be "put back in its box".
American officials say the insider attacks are carried out by a mix of Taliban infiltrators dressed as soldiers, by insurgents who have got themselves recruited and Afghan soldiers angry about their treatment because of personal insults or cultural differences.
US commanders had already assigned soldiers to guard their comrades as they slept, ate or interacted with Afghan forces because of the increasing number of insider killings. American troops were also ordered to carry loaded weapons at all times, even inside their own bases.
Nato attacks on Afghan civilians have added to the strain. In the latest, an air strike killed eight women and girls collecting firewood.
The loss of trust in the force the US is relying on to prevent the Taliban taking control of Afghanistan again, compounds other concerns about Washington's strategy. The additional 33,000 soldiers Barack Obama despatched two years ago as part of the surge are expected to complete their withdrawal this week. The remaining 68,000 US troops are supposed to gradually shift responsibility to Afghan forces which, under the American strategy, are to take the lead in combat as early as next year.
But despite gains on the battlefield, questions persist about whether the Afghan forces will have the ability and will to keep an undefeated Taliban at bay once Nato forces have left.