Army chief: We cannot beat the Taliban without reinforcements

Troop numbers in Afghanistan must increase to contain the surge in violence, says the commander of British forces in Helmand.

In an interview with The Independent ahead of Gordon Brown's visit to the province yesterday, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said: "We are probably still on a growth trajectory before we get to the stage when the UK presence can begin to thin out." The commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade estimated it would be up to five years before Britain could consider dropping troop numbers.

Senior military officers are reported to have held preliminary talks on increasing British soldiers in Afghanistan from 8,000 to 12,000 – a dramatic difference from the 3,300 initially expected to hold the ground when the UK force took over Helmand in 2006. The boost in numbers ties in with suggestions that troop levels in Iraq be scaled back.

Senior Nato commanders are said to be "screaming out" for more boots on the ground in Afghanistan.

Two thirds of the way through its tour, 16 Air Assault Brigade has experienced the predicted summer surge in violence. The resignation of Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf has led to fears that Islamist groups in the country will take advantage of the ensuing turmoil to step up attacks in Afghanistan.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith, who has been in charge during a tour which has cost 24 servicemen and one woman their lives, said he expected the British would at least maintain such high force levels for three to five years. "One of the characteristics of counter-insurgency, unlike conventional war, is the more successful you are in the short term, the more troops you require," he said. "The more ground and the more people you become responsible for, the more troops you need.

"I could use more helicopters – any tactical operational commander could. But there is no point in thinking that aviation is going to make a strategic difference."

The Prime Minister, during a fleeting visit to Afghanistan en route to the Olympics in Beijing, met Brigadier Carleton-Smith and the governor of Helmand, Gulab Mangal, before flying to Kabul to hold talks with President Hamid Karzai.

Mr Brown was not drawn on troop levels but likened the soldiers' courage and dedication to the Olympic medallists. "You make our country proud every day of the week and every week of the year," said the Prime Minister. "You are truly the heroes of our country."

At a joint news conference with Mr Karzai, Mr Brown insisted that coalition forces were gaining ground despite a vicious summer offensive.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith said he remained "cautiously optimistic", citing the now symbolic town of Musa Qala and the southern frontline post of Garmsir as two key "centres of gravity" which have been taken from the Taliban. "They [the Taliban fighters] are recognised for what they are – a brutal, criminally orientated terrorist organisation with no interest in the Afghan population," he said. "The local population is overwhelmingly hostile to the Taliban. The Taliban is quite tactically resilient but it is not joined up at the strategic level."

He said the key to British withdrawal from Helmand was a strong local army, police and government. In one year, the number of Afghan National Army forces in Helmand has increased from 2,500 to 4,300 and while Nato troops remain the leading force, they are increasingly working alongside local soldiers. The Afghan army has 70,000 troops with plans to build the force up to 122,000 – but it lacks armour, air power and medical support.

Brigadier Carleton-Smith concluded: "Armies have never controlled Afghanistan. There has always been a political settlement."

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: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works