Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Locals Believe the British Are Cunning. If the Enemy Gets Stronger, They Think It's Planned

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Locals Believe the British Are Cunning. If the Enemy Gets Stronger, They Think It's Planned

Article excerpt

Byline: Jerome Starkey our correspondent talks to Afghans in Lashkar Gah

PEOPLE in Helmand believe in the wild conspiracy that British troops have been helping the Taliban. Despite the grim toll of bodies going home in coffins, many Afghans in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand, are convinced that British troops have been supporting the insurgents.

"Of course we think they are supporting the Taliban," said shopkeeper Saad Alikhi. "When the international troops first came, they cleaned up all the Taliban, all over Afghanistan, within a month. Now I find there's a mine exploding in front of my shop."

Security has plummeted across the province since British troops arrived three years ago and ordinary people have watched the Taliban grow stronger.

Many are struggling to understand why Britain, with all the might of Nato and America, has failed to beat the Taliban. "Since the British troops came here, you cannot even go out of the buildings because there are mines everywhere," said Colonel Abdul Ghafour, a former head of Helmand's police. "Everywhere there are Taliban."

Theories are rife in Lashkar Gah's bazaars, but the prevalence of the myth that Britain has been helping insurgents is evidence of how far UK troops have to go to convince locals they are there to help. I travelled to Lashkar Gah to find out what ordinary people thought about the spiralling violence. It was the first time a British journalist had visited Helmand without a military escort for almost a year. The number of people who said they thought Britain was supporting the Taliban was astonishing.

The head of Lashkar Gah's council of religious scholars, Haji Maulavi Mokhtar, admitted the myth was firmly embedded in the "popular consciousness".

"Even among government officials, it has made them hopeless. …

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