Bloody reality of Afghan war hits home

As British forces suffer a sharp rise in casualties, the new Defence Secretary is forced to acknowledge 'gloom and worry'

Seven deaths in seven days, and the grim warning that many more lives will be lost before it is over. That is the bloody reality on the ground for British troops in what has been described as the defining moment in the ferocious war in Afghanistan.

The Defence Secretary Bob Ains-worth acknowledged yesterday that "there is, of course, gloom and worry back here with the numbers of people we have lost". He went on to say: "Let us be under no illusion. The situation in Afghanistan is serious, and not yet decided. The way forward is hard and dangerous. More lives will be lost and our resolve will be tested... If we are to succeed we will need both the courage and the patience to see it through."

The message came along with the news of the latest fatality in the conflict, a serviceman from the Light Dragoons killed in an explosion in Gereshk in Helmand, 24 hours after Captain Ben Babington-Browne, of 22 Engineer Regiment, Royal Engineers, was killed in a helicopter crash.

It was also the day Major Sean Birchall, of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, was laid to rest after a service at the Guards Chapel in London's Wellington Barracks. His widow, Joanna, the mother of his 18-month-old son Charlie, said: "Sean was a wonderful husband, a doting father and a much loved son and brother who cared deeply for his family and friends. He was thrilled to have the opportunity to lead his men in Afghanistan and he was utterly devoted to the Guardsmen he was with."

At the time of Major Birchall's death his commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Rupert Thornloe spoke of the loss of "an outstandingly talented individual who showed inspirational leadership". Last week Lt Col Thornloe was killed himself, becoming the most senior British Army officer to be killed since the Falklands War, along with Trooper Joshua Hammond, from the 2nd Royal Tank Regiment.

Recriminations about the conduct of the mission with the remorselessly rising casualty list came from a retired senior diplomat, Sir Brian Crowe, the deputy chairman of Chatham House, where the Defence Secretary was speaking, saying the lack of helicopters in the combat zone was "a real scandal".

There were also signs of tensions within the command structure when the Defence Secretary, asked whether he was going to send reinforcements to Afghanistan responded: "We've got 9,000 there at the moment. Those who want to send more are the same ones who warned that current operations could break the Army."

The Independent has revealed that senior military commanders, backed by Mr Ainsworth's predecessor, John Hutton, had asked for 2,500 extra troops to be sent to Helmand. This was turned down by Gordon Brown who would only agree to the temporary deployment of 700 to help provide security for the Afghan elections in August.

Mr Ainsworth denied claims that Afghanistan was turning into "Britain's Vietnam" but acknowledged that there was no quick exit from the conflict. "In the face of the casualties we are seeing, it is understandable when people ask, 'is this too difficult?' But this is not the message I get in Afghanistan. People don't want the Taliban back and we must stay and finish the job. If you come you must stay."

The shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox claimed that despite Mr Ainsworth's assurances, troops in Afghanistan still lack essential equipment. "There are real questions about whether the Government has fulfilled the pledge to give the armed forces everything they need to do the job," he said. "The bottom line from our troops is they don't have enough armoured vehicles and they don't have enough helicopters."

The US Defence Secretary Robert Gates had stated that American public opinion will "wear thin" in Afghanistan unless significant progress is made in the course of the year. Both sides seem to see the coming months as decisive in shaping the course of the conflict. More than 22,000 US troops have poured into the south of the country with around 10,000 heading for Helmand, the centre of UK operations.

They are paying a heavy price; seven American soldiers, along with two Canadians, were killed in 24 hours earlier this week. US and British forces are now involved in an operation to take control of the Helmand river valley, an area which has become the base for Taliban fighters fanning out to carry out attacks across the province.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Young Winstone: His ‘tough-guy’ image is a misconception
people
Sport
Adnan Januzaj and Gareth Bale
footballManchester United set to loan out Januzaj to make room for Bale - if a move for the Welshman firms up
Arts and Entertainment
Ellie Levenson’s The Election book demystifies politics for children
bookNew children's book primes the next generation for politics
News
Outspoken: Alexander Fury, John Rentoul, Ellen E Jones and Katy Guest
newsFrom the Scottish referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
News
i100
Sport
Yaya Sanogo, Mats Hummels, Troy Deeney and Adnan Januzaj
footballMost Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
Arts and Entertainment
L to R: Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Captain America (Chris Evans) & Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) in Avengers Assemble
film
News
Nigel Farage celebrates with a pint after early local election results in the Hoy and Helmet pub in South Benfleet in Essex
peopleHe has shaped British politics 'for good or ill'
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams' “Happy” was the most searched-for song lyric of 2014
musicThe power of song never greater, according to our internet searches
Sport
Tim Sherwood raises his hand after the 1-0 victory over Stoke
footballFormer Tottenham boss leads list of candidates to replace Neil Warnock
Arts and Entertainment
Sink the Pink's 2013 New Year's Eve party
musicFour of Britain's top DJs give their verdict on how to party into 2015
Voices
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers
voicesIt has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Arts and Entertainment
Roffey says: 'All of us carry shame and taboo around about our sexuality. But I was determined not to let shame stop me writing my memoir.'
books
News
i100
News
Caplan says of Jacobs: 'She is a very collaborative director, and gives actors a lot of freedom. She makes things happen.'
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant- NY- Investment Bank

Not specified: Selby Jennings: VP/SVP Credit Quant Top tier investment bank i...

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?
Finally, a diet that works: Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced

Finally, a diet that works

Californian pastor's wildly popular Daniel Plan has seen his congregation greatly reduced
Say it with... lyrics: The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches

Say it with... lyrics

The power of song was never greater, according to our internet searches
Professor Danielle George: On a mission to bring back the art of 'thinkering'

The joys of 'thinkering'

Professor Danielle George on why we have to nurture tomorrow's scientists today
Monique Roffey: The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections

Monique Roffey interview

The author on father figures, the nation's narcissism and New Year reflections
Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Introducing my anti-heroes of 2014

Their outrageousness and originality makes the world a bit more interesting, says Ellen E Jones
DJ Taylor: Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

Good taste? It's all a matter of timing...

It has been hard to form generally accepted cultural standards since the middle of the 19th century – and the disintegration is only going to accelerate, says DJ Taylor
Olivia Jacobs & Ben Caplan: 'Ben thought the play was called 'Christian Love'. It was 'Christie in Love' - about a necrophiliac serial killer'

How we met

Olivia Jacobs and Ben Caplan
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's breakfasts will revitalise you in time for the New Year

Bill Granger's healthy breakfasts

Our chef's healthy recipes are perfect if you've overindulged during the festive season
Transfer guide: From Arsenal to West Ham - what does your club need in the January transfer window?

Who does your club need in the transfer window?

Most Premier League sides are after a striker, but here's a full run down of the ins and outs that could happen over the next month
The Last Word: From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015

Michael Calvin's Last Word

From aliens at FA to yak’s milk in the Tour, here’s to 2015