Soldiers in Afghanistan face one-year tours of duty

 

Lashkar Gah

The length of tours for key units of the British military serving in Afghanistan is likely to be doubled to a year for the crucial drawdown period leading to the end of combat operations there in 2014.

The "spine" of brigades sent in the future may be deployed for up to 12 months rather than six, the commander of Task Force Helmand, Brigadier Ed Davis, told The Independent.

The extension of tours will be highly controversial at a time when cuts are being made in numbers of personnel, and when the Libyan mission means that British forces are engaged in fighting on two fronts, leading to complaints of overstretch.

But Brigadier Davis, of 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines, stressed that the continuing Taliban threat showed the need for longer deployment of some UK contingents, especially those "mentoring" Afghan forces, to provide more continuity – and that this necessitated much longer periods in Helmand.

He said: "The constant churn of people with whom you have really strong relationships is hard, so I think you need to reduce that by having people in theatre for longer. I suspect over time we'll see these changes and a larger percentage of people doing longer tours ... We are looking at nine to 12 months."

A suicide bombing of a police station at Lashkar Gah yesterday, which left 11 people dead, including a child, is a source of concern for the British command in Afghanistan. It handed over control of the provincial capital to the Afghan government two weeks ago as the security situation was deemed to have improved. The attack showed the determination of insurgents to turn the city back into a battleground, say senior British officers, and the need for prolonged commitment to training Afghan forces.

Michael O'Neill, the head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) in Helmand, the civil arm of the British presence in the province, backed Brigadier Davis: "This makes good sense. We are at a critical time and it is extremely important that we do have this continuity. Most of the people at the PRT are doing more than six months, up to a year, some have extended to 18 months. We find this is very helpful in building up relationships with Afghan partners and also in seeing through projects. There are obviously some stresses involved, but overall people cope well."

Brigadier Davis added: "When you are mentoring, when you are not in charge, you are not leading, you're very much leading from behind. I am talking about a number of groups, some of the specialists, the mentor teams, advisory mentor teams, and maybe some of the other functions we might be looking at extending like intelligence. This is because the 'knowledge depth' is so great, it makes sense to have people here a bit longer."

Afghan political and military leaders also stressed they approved of extending the tour for key units. Gulab Mangal, the governor of Helmand, said: "It is essential to build on the long-term relationship between the British and their Afghan colleagues. Extending the time, for a little while, will help to do this."

Brigadier Davis stressed: "The bulk of the structure and the six-month employment sample will carry on, I think certainly for the foreseeable future. The programme will go through until 2014, that's the intent at the moment."

A Ministry of Defence (MoD) spokesman said: "The MoD is always examining how best to generate and sustain our armed forces, including by looking at the length of tours and the intervals between them. However the vast majority of personnel serve six-month tours and there are no current plans to change this."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
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
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'
News
news
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
Travel
Suite dreams: the JW Marriott in Venice
travelChic new hotels in 2015
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
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
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

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
Sports Quiz of the Year

Sports Quiz of the Year

So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect