Afghan critic quits top Army role

Leading general stands down just months after landing new UK command

A senior commander who led British troops in Afghanistan has resigned after bitter clashes with the Government over the war.

Major-General Andrew Mackay, recently appointed General Officer commanding Scotland, Northern Ireland and Northern England, had spoken of his dismay at the "inadequate support" given to troops and the "lack of clear policy" in the conflict.

General Mackay took part in one of the best known military operations of the war when he led a British, US and Afghan force to recapture the town of Musa Qala from the Taliban. The US had been highly critical when the town was taken over by insurgents after a deal between British authorities and local leaders, and retaking the town was seen as vital in repairing relations with Washington.

According to defence sources, General Mackay, then a brigadier, was astonished when it was suggested by No 10 that the timing of the operation should coincide with a visit by Gordon Brown to Helmand. After the town was retaken General Mackay and his team were said to be disappointed that despite requests from "stabilisation advisers" on the ground, not enough resources were put into place to win the hearts and minds of the people.

After returning to Britain, General Mackay was part of a team that conducted a counter-insurgency review which is due to shape the strategy in the conflict. But, he and others had been impatient about the time it was taking to put the ideas into practice.

General Mackay, 52, who was appointed governor of Edinburgh Castle three months ago, was seen as a rising leader of the British forces. The Ministry of Defence confirmed last night he had resigned, but a spokesman declined to discuss the reasons.

The commander was disillusioned with what he considered to be a failure to carry out adequate reconstruction and development in Helmand. He had said privately that British soldiers risking their lives in the conflict had been let down by the Government in carrying out the vital tasks necessary to win over the local population. Recently, the General had also been critical of restructuring carried out in the Army in Scotland which he believed would damage future combat effectiveness.

General Mackay was commander of Task Force Helmand from October 2007 until April 2008. During that time he signed a "ground truth" memorandum, sent to London, which listed serious problems with his troops' equipment. He pointed out that the engines were faulty in many of the ageing Scimitar reconnaissance tanks of the Household Cavalry. Tanks which were supposed to be operational could not get into reverse gear without the engine being restarted. A quarter of the Mastiff armoured vehicles were out of action for weeks and the new Vector vehicles were not being used because "the wheels kept falling off".

The commander angered Downing Street by stating that he was astonished by the lack of clear direction at the top. There was, he said, a sense of "making it up as we go along".

His views were drawn on by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee in its report into the Afghan conflict: "We conclude that the UK deployment to Helmand was undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments, and crucially, a failure to provide the military with clear direction."

There were many in the defence establishment who had been opposed to the appointment of General Mackay as the Helmand military chief.

Comments