Make or break time for Afghan forces as NATO prepares to take step back

Lieutenant General Nick Carter

From Nick Hopkins, Guardian:  British commanders have warned that the war against the Taliban is entering its most critical phase as Afghanistan’s security forces prepare to fight the insurgency on their own for the first time without Nato troops alongside them on the frontline.

President Hamid Karzai is expected to announce that the Afghan army and police will shortly take the lead in combat operations across the whole of Afghanistan, and senior officers interviewed by the Guardian said the next six months – known as the "fighting season" – would show if the bold strategy had paid off. . . .

Brigadier Bob Bruce, the commander of Task Force Helmand, denied the approach was a gamble, and said it was the right time for UK forces to step back to allow the Afghans to gain confidence before Nato combat troops withdraw next year.

"This is their problem. This is their insurgency. We know for a fact there is no military solution to the insurgency; there is no way the military is going to win a counter-insurgency [war] because it is essentially a political issue. It is a battle of offers: the offer the government makes to the people and the offer the insurgents make to the people."

Bruce admitted the campaign was "at a very challenging stage".

"It is a period of some uncertainties but we reduce the risk by retaining combat capability right to the end, to the end of 2014. We will have the capability to do so, at a reducing scale. We are here to support them if they really struggle. . . ."

Bruce said the ANSF was a new and developing force and it needed to be weaned off the support of Nato’s International Security and Assistance Force (Isaf). In recent weeks, the Afghans had asked for help on low-level operations but the UK had refused.

"They are finding their feet and they are doing this in contact with a pretty ruthless and determined enemy. They have had a pretty hard fight, as have we. Confidence comes when you have overcome a challenge and this summer will be their biggest challenge yet."

He added: "We will not let them fail. When they really need us, we will intervene. . . ."

Lieutenant General Nick Carter, the most senior British officer in Afghanistan, and deputy commander of all Nato forces, said people should not be surprised if UK troops were called into action between now and the end of next year, when Nato formally ends 13 years of operations. . . .

Carter admitted the ANSF were taking too many casualties – 1,100 deaths in six months last year, a rate he described as "unsustainable. . . ."

"Most of their casualties are caused by IEDs [improvised explosive devices]. Their counter-IED capability is developing and they find more IEDs than we do, but they need greater capacity."  (photo: Getty)

Image: getty%204%201%2013%20mirror.jpg