British forces in a crisis in Afghanistan

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THE British army went into Helmand province in Afghanistan like lions, with their officers explaining that they were going to take on the Taleban, and in the first week or so, as their forces built up, boasted that they were going to take the Taleban apart.

This was the exact opposite to the position put forward by the then Defence Secretary John Reid, a few weeks earlier. He had said that the whole British force might spend an entire tour of duty (three years ) in Afghanistan doing reconstruction work without firing a shot.

What had changed? Apparently, the ‘intelligence’. This suggested that the enemy was in a very poor shape to fight, so statements by the Taleban that they were preparing a hot welcome for the British army were arrogantly ignored.

The British army in Helmand was up to 4,000 strong including an air mobile battle group, artillery and Apache attack helicopters. It was then dispersed to isolated military outposts. These were to be the honey that attracted the Taleban bees to be mown down by helicopter gunships. It was to be Omdurman all over again.

One of the bases was at Sangin. However, it was surrounded, and had to be relieved in a week in which six British troops were killed in fierce fighting.

The sixth solder was killed trying to defend the helicopter landing site outside the Sangin base.

Chinooks which were bringing in relieving troops could not land so the base at Sangin remained under seige and threatened with being overrun.

This sobered up the officer corps no end. The cry went up for reinforcements, with the government opposing, and having to do a complete u-turn in a couple of days, under intense military pressure.

One thousand more troops were to be sent, reinforced by helicopter gunships, and artillery.

This led to a 1,000-strong force led by hundreds of paratroopers being used to relieve Sangin.

Now we were told the story would be different.

However, what was different was that in another of the exposed bases the British army had to call in US jet fighters to bomb the surrounding town to smithereens with 500lb bombs to prevent the base being completely overrun and all of the soldiers slaughtered.

This tactic led to protests by the Afghan government of Karzai over the numbers of innocent civilians who had been slaughtered to save the British forces.

Now the penny has finally dropped, but not completely as far as the cream of Sandhurst is concerned. With all of the remote external bases under seige, and with defending them imposing a huge strain on the British forces and their coalition allies, the cry has gone up to retreat to a central garrison, which would just raid the rural areas, Vietnam style.

This cry has now gone up from the leading officers in Helmand that the MoD must close all of the isolated bases, and rebalance the British military forces, and concentrate them in a central base, which would mean that all of the British resources in Afghanistan would be used to defend it.

However, the Afghan government is opposed to this retreat and the Taleban are already saying that it did not take long to put the Brits to flight.

One big base will mean that fighters will come from as far as Khandahar to help overrun it, undermine it and destroy it.

In reality, what the British officers are talking about in Afghanistan is abandoning the British military mission there as being beyond the human and other material resources that British imperialism can muster. They know that they have bitten off more than they can chew.

The trade unions in Britain must take their stand with the Afghan people and take action against the Blair government.

The trade unions must bring down the Blair government to bring in a workers’ government that will carry out socialist policies and withdraw all troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.