Broke Britain 'can no longer afford role in Afghanistan'

Cash, not casualties, could be the factor that finally forces a scaling down of military commitment

British soldiers in Afghanistan are "horribly over-extended" and being killed for "no good reason", a senior military figure admitted last night. He said talks are now under way with US commanders that would pave the way for Britain to begin scaling down its commitment to the war, bringing about a change of emphasis in its deployment.

Britain's 10,000-strong force is suffering "appalling" casualty rates and is set to be given a break from the worst of the fighting, according to the source. "The Americans know the Brits have been giving more than they can afford, and agree that they should be kept out of harm's way as far as possible. But McChrystal [the American commander of international forces in Afghanistan] is keen to have the input of some ground troops and special forces," the source said. "Essentially, the Americans know we are broke and we are getting blokes killed for no good reason. Whatever the MoD says, it absolutely isn't business as usual."

He added: "The problem is that the Afghan troops are not yet ready to take over, and training them up is not something the Afghan government can afford." And the reputation of British forces is suffering. The source told the IoS that one senior figure in the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) had commented recently: "There is no point in sending British troops into places where they need helicopters, because they ain't got 'em."

With the Ministry of Defence facing a £36bn budget black hole over the next decade and savage cuts likely under the defence review, politicians are warning that the war has become financially untenable.

"It is unsustainable for this number of troops to be in Afghanistan and Pakistan for an indefinite period. The forces just aren't large enough, and I know the Secretary of State for Defence is more than aware of this," said the Conservative MP Patrick Mercer.

So far this year, 41 British soldiers have been killed in action and 137 seriously wounded, with hundreds more admitted to hospital.

The US will continue to take on the bulk of the burden in Afghanistan, and the next few months will be a tipping point. Fighting is set to intensify as coalition forces try to retake the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar in what commanders are calling the "most difficult and most important" operation since the war began. Their success, or failure, will be crucial in determining whether President Barack Obama carries out his stated intention of reducing US forces from 2011.

Yesterday insurgents made their third major attack on Nato forces within six days, firing at least five rockets into Kandahar air base and launching a ground assault – a rarely employed tactic – on the perimeter fence. Firing continued for several hours.

On Tuesday, a suicide bomber attacked a Nato convoy in Kabul, killing six soldiers, and on Wednesday dozens of Taliban militants, some clad in suicide vests, sustained an assault upon Bagram airfield, the main US base in Afghanistan, for eight hours.

A shift in UK government policy was outlined by Liam Fox, the Defence Secretary, on Friday, when he said that Britain was not a "global policeman", that he would like to see troops return "as soon as possible", and that Britain needs to "reset expectations and timelines". He added: "We are not in Afghanistan for the sake of the education policy of a broken, 13th-century country. We are there to see our global interests are not threatened."

The comments are a clear statement of intent, according to General Sir Hugh Beach, former deputy commander of British land forces. "Words like 'timelines' and 'expectations' – if that isn't a clear message that we're planning to get out early then I don't know what would be."

Lord Bramall, a former chief of the defence staff, said: "I think it is the beginning of the end, but it is a question of how long it takes. The Americans are talking about a review and a possible run-down in about a year. If they start withdrawing, we'll consider we're in the clear to do the same."

But it is premature to talk about withdrawal until there is military success, according to Colonel Bob Stewart. "Once we have mastery of the situation, then we can start thinking about an endgame, but we're not there yet."

Mr Fox, William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, arrived in Afghanistan yesterday for talks with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan President, and General Stanley McChrystal.

Speaking yesterday, Mr Fox clarified his earlier remarks: "What I was pointing out is that the primary reason for sending our armed forces to Afghanistan was one of national security... But, clearly, if we are to make the long-term gains that will provide the stability to maintain the momentum when our armed forces eventually hand over to Afghan forces, we will require a long period of development in concert with the international authorities, the NGOs and our and other countries' aid programmes." He refused to set a timescale, but added: "When you're looking at one of the poorest countries in the world, the help it will require will be over a very long period indeed."

Tension is rising in Afghanistan, with the Taliban stepping up its actions as summer approaches, when fighting reaches its peak. Yesterday Afghan police uncovered a cache of almost 300 rockets outside Kabul.

While military success in Afghanistan remains in the balance, neither Britain nor the US is in control of the two key factors on which ultimate success rests: a reduction in the corruption that plagues President Karzai's regime, and the country's ability to sustain the hundreds of thousands of police and soldiers that will be needed to secure its stability.

Killed in action: 286th British soldier dies in Afghanistan

The latest British soldier killed in action in Afghanistan was last night named as Corporal Stephen Walker. Cpl Walker, 42, was serving with 40 Commando Royal Marines. He was killed on Friday by an explosion while on a foot patrol with the Afghan National Army in Sangin, Helmand province. Cpl Walker, from Exmouth, leaves a wife, a son and a daughter. His wife, Leona, said in a statement: "Steve was passionate, loyal and determined. He enjoyed the role he had in the Marines but he was a family man at heart. Life goes on, but it will never be the same for us." He is the 286th British soldier to have died since the war began in 2001.

Suggested Topics
Sport
Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi during Barcelona training in August
footballPete Jenson co-ghost wrote Suarez’s autobiography and reveals how desperate he's been to return
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Architect Frank Gehry is regarded by many as the most important architect of the modern era
arts + entsGehry has declared that 98 per cent of modern architecture is "s**t"
Money
Welcome to tinsel town: retailers such as Selfridges will be Santa's little helpers this Christmas, working hard to persuade shoppers to stock up on gifts
news
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
News
Laurence Easeman and Russell Brand
people
Sport
Fans of Dulwich Hamlet FC at their ground Champion Hill
footballFans are rejecting the £2,000 season tickets, officious stewarding, and airline-stadium sponsorship
News
Shami Chakrabarti
people
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch has refused to deny his involvement in the upcoming new Star Wars film
filmBenedict Cumberbatch reignites Star Wars 7 rumours
Sport
football
News
news
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker