Report: Helmand Deployment Lacked Troops, Helicopters And Planning

Report: Helmand Deployment Lacked Troops, Helicopters And Planning

Hasty withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan could undermine the international coalition's strategy, a report from the House of Commons defence committee has warned.

The report comes as British forces eye the second wave of handovers of territory in southern Helmand province to the Afghanistan army.

Reuters reported on Saturday that a former Taliban stronghold in the region has improved enough to transfer to Afghan control in early 2012.

Violence continues in parts of Helmand, but NATO its hopeful that security control of the provincial capital Lashkar Gah can be passed to the Afghan army next week.

Current plans foresee the whole of the country transitioning to the control of Afghan security forces by the end 2014, followed by the removal of most foreign troops.

They also warned the military deployment in southern Helmand province by UK armed forces was under-resourced, badly thought-through and not communicated properly to the public.

The southern Helmand mission began in 2006 with a deployment of around 3,300 troops. Almost immediately the move resulted in a dramatic rise in casualties to British troops, and the number of troops there eventually increased to about 10,000. The handover of control of the province to Afghan forces began this year.

While the report praised the actions and bravery of the armed forces, it said that "a failure of military and political co-ordination" resulted in a severe lack of resources including a dearth of troop numbers and vehicles.

The report said: "We do not believe that senior military advisers briefed their Ministers with sufficient force as to the strategic implications of the operational change."

The government did not anticipate the "hornets' nest" of opposition the 2006 mission would stir up despite evidence to the contrary, the committee said.

The committee said that it was also "unlikely" that the cabinet was consulted on the move, and added that that failures in communication between the government and the public on Afghanistan have been repeated more recently in Libya.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox said:

"It is clear that mistakes were made in the lead-up to and during the initial deployment to Helmand in 2006. This was particularly true with regard to the troop numbers and equipment made available for the tasks expected of the UK forces deployed over that period. Since 2009 we have seen increases of force levels in Helmand from across the Alliance and through the growth of the Afghan forces that have halted the momentum of the insurgency."

"My highest priority is ensuring that our service personnel are given all the support and equipment they need to do the job asked of them. Helicopters are a shared resource across ISAF and there are sufficient in theatre. Since November 2006, the number of UK airframes available to commanders in Afghanistan has doubled with an increase in helicopter hours of around 140%."

The operation into Helmand province resulted in an increased demand for troops and helicopters, but those resources did not materialise. The result was that soldiers were left without the tools necessary to do their job, the report said. The armed forces did not have the troop levels to achieve their objectives and no reserve force was in place to fill the gap.

The committee blamed senior commanders in the armed forces for not passing on on the concerns of officers on the ground:

"We are disturbed by the fact that the Secretary of State was being told that commanders on the ground were content with the support they were being given in Helmand when clearly they were not."

"We regard it as unacceptable that hard pressed Forces in such a difficult operation as Helmand should have been denied the necessary support to carry out the Mission."

Although the committee accepted that "progress" has since been made, particularly with regard to the training of the Afghan army, it also says that it is "convinced" that UK forces still do not have access to the helicopters and other equipment needed to carry out their work.

The government has not correctly or consistently explained the need for the operation in Afghanistan to the public, the report added:

"The Government’s descriptions of the nature of the mission and its importance to UK interests have varied throughout the campaign, lacking a consistent narrative."

The report also warned that the role of women in Afghanistan is still severely under-developed, which could create problems for the country's long-term future.

"If Afghanistan is to become a stable and even partially functioning society, it is vital that women are involved in the process and feel they have a stake in it. If, as feared, women are largely excluded from peace negotiations, coupled with the reengagement of the Taliban in government, then the progress made so far could easily unravel."


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