British Afghan effort criticised in Wiki cables

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Dec. 3, 2010, 8:06 a.m. | World — by Reuters


LONDON, Dec 3 (Reuters) - British troops were "not up" to the task of securing Afghanistan's troubled Helmand province and the local governor pleaded for U.S. reinforcements, American diplomats said in a new batch of cables released by WikiLeaks. Afghan President Hamid Karzai also thought security in the province, a Taliban stronghold, had deteriorated after British troops were stationed there in 2006, the cables obtained by the website and reported in The Guardian newspaper on Friday said.

"We and Karzai agree the British are not up to the task of securing Helmand," U.S. diplomats from the Kabul embassy said in a 2008 cable published by the Guardian.

The Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal, told a U.S. team led by Vice President Joe Biden in January 2009 that American forces were urgently needed as British security in Sangin district did not even extend to the main bazaar.

"I do not have anything against them (the British) but they must leave their bases and engage with the people," Mangal said, according to a cable sent from the U.S. embassy in Kabul.

"Stop calling it the Sangin district and start calling it the Sangin base -- all you have done here is built a military camp next to the city," he added.

The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 also criticised the British strategy, the newspaper said. "He was particularly dismayed by the British effort. They had made a mess of things in Helmand, their tactics were wrong, and the deal that London cut on Musa Qala (town) had failed," Commander Dan McNeil, was quoted by U.S. diplomats as saying.

McNeil was referring to a ceasefire agreement with the Taliban that allowed the British to pull troops out of the besieged town of Musa Qala in 2006.

President Karzai was quoted as telling U.S. officials that the arrival of British troops in the southern province in 2006 had coincided with a deterioration of the situation there.

"When I first returned to Afghanistan," Karzai was quoted as saying in a February 2009 cable from the U.S. embassy, "I had only 14 American soldiers with me."

"But we had the Afghan people with us, they believed in the moral correctness of what we were doing, and even Helmand was safe for girls to go to school. Now, 4,000 (sic) British soldiers are in Helmand, and the people are not safe."

This year has been the most violent in the nine-year-old NATO-led campaign against Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan, where Britain has more than 9,500 troops. There are about 150,000 foreign troops in the country.
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