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
News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
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

Volunteer Trustee opportunities now available at The Society for Experimental Biology

Unpaid Voluntary Position : Reach Volunteering: Volunteer your expertise as Tr...

Early Years Educator

£68 - £73 per day + Competitive rates of pay based on experience: Randstad Edu...

Nursery Nurse

£69 - £73 per day + Competitive London rates of pay: Randstad Education Group:...

Primary KS1 NQTs required in Lambeth

£117 - £157 per day + Competitive London rates: Randstad Education Group: * Pr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam