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
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Sport
Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
football
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
News
i100
Travel
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Sport
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

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

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Adam Gemili interview: 'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

'No abs Adam' plans to muscle in on Usain Bolt's turf

After a year touched by tragedy, Adam Gemili wants to become the sixth Briton to run a sub-10sec 100m
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum