British Afghan campaign 'on track'

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The Independent Online

The British campaign in Afghanistan is on track to achieve its aims by 2014, the former top military officer in the country has said.

Brigadier Ed Davis, commander of 3 Commando Brigade, which has just returned from a six-month tour, said the area of central Helmand had seen a 45% drop in insurgent attacks against ISAF and ANSF forces - around eight per week less.

And in some areas, that swelled to an 86% drop compared to the previous year, he said.

Brig Davis, who commanded Task Force Helmand, said they had "interdicted", or disrupted, 7.5 tonnes of homemade explosives, equating to about eight months of contact IEDs.

"The campaign is on track, and the end sight of being able to hand over control of Helmand to an effective trusted and sustainable Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) is deliverable," he said.

"I think we have maintained the momentum and progress towards that, built upon the success of Herricks that went before us.

"I think we did maintain momentum across that summer and the transition is on track of achieving our end sight by 2014."

Prime Minister David Cameron has set a deadline of 2014 for the withdrawal of all British fighting troops.

The number of British forces personnel of MoD civilians killed while serving in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 now stands at 383, after the death of Rifleman Vijay Rai, from the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles, who was killed at the weekend in Nahr-e-Saraj.

Brig Davis said that throughout the six months they had detained 19 low-to-mid-level Taliban commanders, and killed 18.

He said they had seen an increased appetite by Afghans to take control of the area - provincial capital Lashkar Gah was formally handed over on July 20.

But he said the threat had also shifted from rural areas to "something that was more cell-like and urban-focused".

He said they had two "spectacular attacks" in Lashkar Gah during the six months, but three times that number were prevented.

Brig Davis said during the tour they tried to move away from a "psychosis" over the idea of a summer fighting season.

Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Lee, commanding officer of 45 Commando RM, which assumed responsibility for Combined Force Nad-e Ali (South), said they worked to encourage the area's 80,000 Afghans to become "counter-insurgents" by showing them the summer fighting season was not inevitable.

"When we went to Afghanistan, these people spoke almost exclusively with one voice, irrespective of where they come from within the district.

"They said unanimously that they despised the insurgents and the violence it imposed upon their lives and those of their families.

"But they said they were not in a position to be able to do anything about it themselves."

He said "tactical campaigning" meant they could suppress the fighting season.

As they gained confidence, Afghans refused to close their schools, refused to pay taxes on their crops to insurgents, and refused them sanctuary in their compounds, as well as reporting IED threats to ISAF and ANSF forces, he said.

"They decisively closed the Nad-e-Ali South door in the face of the insurgent and he will be hard-pressed to make his way back into Nad-e-Ali south off the back of that legacy," Lt Col Lee said.

Brig Davis said the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan would have to be something they got "right".

"We have got to get the draw-down right. The figures we have got in the troop levels we've got until the end of next year are absolutely right for what needs to be done.

"I have every confidence that we will have the force levels needed for success.

"This is all about the people, they are the decisive factor.

"I am very confident that we will get the force ratios right across the whole of the AO (area of operation) as we hand over and draw down, and there is no reason why we can't get that right."

Brig Davis heaped praise on British troops in Afghanistan, saying: "The humbling, inspirational achievement and sacrifice of our men and women is absolutely amazing."

He praised their "humanity" to reach out to the Afghan people, adding: "Ultimately it's all about human relationships, of any kind.

"Their insatiable desire to make a difference has made a difference. There's an awful lot I think our nation should be proud of out there."

Source: PA