UK opposes US plan for longer tours of duty

Britain and the US are at loggerheads over key aspects of their strategy against the Taliban, in fresh evidence of discord over the future of Nato's troubled mission in Afghanistan.

Washington wants a permanent command in the south of the country, where the fiercest fighting is taking place, instead of the current policy of rotating the post between contributing countries. The US has also asked for the length of time troops from other countries serve in Afghanistan to be significantly raised to match the lengthy American period of deployment.

The British Government is opposed to both the demands. It says that having a permanent southern command in Afghanistan – which, under the American plans, would be run by the US or Britain – would be a snub to Canada and the Netherlands, who are also taking part in the conflict. Canada, in particular, has suffered a large number of casualties. The UK is also refusing to extend the period of its current deployment of six months, saying it would put intolerable pressure on the already overstretched forces and would spark a rapid and potentially crippling exodus from the military.

The American proposals were recently presented to Nato and are currently under discussion, with Washington pressing hard for their acceptance. Robert Gates, the US Defence Secretary, is said to have declared that the alliance's response would be seen as an indication of its "seriousness" about the Afghan mission.

Mr Gates has pointed out that America, despite its heavy commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, has just raised the minimum length of deployment from 12 to 15 months. The US is also sending another 3,200 marines while Nato's European members have been accused of dragging their feet on reinforcements.

After the recent Nato meeting in Vilnius Mr Gates criticised a number of countries for turning a blind eye to the fact that they have to send soldiers to "fight and die" if victory is to be achieved in Afghanistan. Failure to do so, he added, "puts a cloud over the future of the alliance if this is to endure and perhaps even get worse".

The American position is said to have the support of the government of President Hamid Karzai in holding that a permanent command, based in Kandahar, as well as extending the length of the missions would provide stability and continuity. An Afghan official said: "We have members of the Pakistani security who have been working with the Taliban for the last 25 years. On the other side we have our Nato allies whose faces change more than once in just one year. So much in Afghanistan is based on personal contact and trust, yet just when someone from Nato has built that up at local level, it is time for him to move on."

A senior British defence official said yesterday: "We shall have to change the entire structure of our armed forces if we are to extend the period of deployment ... It simply isn't a realistic option. We also think it will be a mistake not to keep the command in the south in its current form."

There are deep reservations among the Canadians and the Dutch over the prospect of the Americans taking over in the south. Both the countries believe greater emphasis should be put on reconstruction and dialogue and less on fighting while the Americans hold that civic progress can only take place after military victory.

There was widespread opposition at Camp Bastion to the US proposals. Sqn Ldr Mike Harris, of the Critical Care Air Support Team, said: "Everyone here works to their utmost capability but we also have families and this is not something many of us will be willing to accept."

Major Chris Bell, whose company in the 1st Battalion Scots Guards fought alongside US troops in the recent battle to recapture the town of Musa Qala, said: "A lot of the Americans looked tired after serving for such long stretches. Our guys have been out on missions almost continuously for months with just a few days back at camp in between and one cannot keep up that kind of tempo for very long."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory