Magazine article The Spectator

The Front Line

Magazine article The Spectator

The Front Line

Article excerpt

The Afghan conflict is a war of necessity. The loss of 15 British troops in the past fortnight, the Labour government's undoubted failure to fund the military properly and the unwillingness of so many of our Nato allies to commit seriously to the fight do not change this overarching strategic reality. As time passes, too many people have forgotten why the Coalition is in Afghanistan at all: 9/11. In its origin and purpose this is not a humanitarian or international development operation but a mission driven by a straightforward geopolitical imperative: to deny alQa'eda a safe haven in this benighted land.

It is both right and essential that British troops should be in Afghanistan. That does not mean that the mission is being carried out correctly: far from it. There are several steps that the government should take - should already have taken - to protect British forces in theatre and to increase their chances of success. First, funds far beyond the £635 million allocated for urgent operational requirements should be freed up to allow the army to buy more helicopters and armoured vehicles. It is notable that for all the noise the Tories are making about the £1.4 billion cut in the helicopter budget in 2004, they have not committed themselves to an emergency increase in defence expenditure funded by specific savings elsewhere.

The military's Lynx helicopters cannot fly in very hot weather, making them useless in Afghanistan. This has resulted in a situation where the British force has far too few helicopters available to it; proportionate to the number of troops, the Americans in Helmand have eight times as many helicopters as we do.

This particular shortage means that we are squandering one of the most significant advantages that modern armies have in counterinsurgency warfare: aerial dominance. Next, a large number of Mine-Resistant AmbushProtected All-Terrain Vehicles should be purchased. These offer both speed and protection and would help to reduce significantly the number of deaths from roadside bombs.

Looking ahead to long-term strategic needs, the army must be increased in size.

Counter-insurgency requires a large number of boots on the ground, but as General Sir Richard Dannatt has conceded, that is precisely what is missing in July 2009. …

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