British commander says war against al-Qa'ida and Taliban is 'all but won'

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The Independent Online

The commander of the British combat troops in Afghanistan said yesterday that the war against al-Qa'ida and Taliban was all but won, and there was no longer any need for large-scale offensives.

Brigadier Roger Lane said Operation Snipe, in which 1,000 Royal Marines are deployed in the mountains of south-east Afghanistan, will be over in the next few days. British forces will be restructured for much more selective operations in the future.

According to defence sources, this could mean the early withdrawal of some of the 1,700 troops sent to Afghanistan in the biggest deployment since the Gulf War.

Brigadier Lane's declaration of victory despite his forces not having fired a shot in anger is bound to lead to criticism.

Critics have already claimed that a failure of intelligence led to a large mission being undertaken in an area from which enemy fighters had disappeared. There have also been persistent reports that hundreds of al-Qa'ida and Taliban fighters who have sought sanctuary in Pakistan are attempting to infiltrate back across the border, and there have been several rocket attacks on peace-keeping forces.

But the British commander stressed that judging success in terms of "body count" was simplistic and missed what has been achieved in broader terms. He pointed out that the Royal Marines have secured one of the enemy's last remaining bases in the country, taken control of a main supply route and stopped them from regrouping and launching attacks.

Brigadier Lane said the securing of the area by the marines would enable Afghan government forces to move in, and humanitarian aid to be distributed to the inhabitants, and help stop guerrillas slipping back from Pakistan.

Speaking at Bagram air base, the allied headquarters, Brigadier Lane said: "We believe the fight against al-Qa'ida and the Taliban in Afghanistan is all but won, that they're not showing a predisposition to reorganise and regroup to mount offensive operations against us. I think the general assessment is that in substantial parts of the country the need for offensive operations is beginning to dwindle and that they will be completed in a matter of weeks."

Brigadier Lane added that the most effective way of constraining al-Qa'ida was to deprive them of a base from which they could plan, train and launch operations. "I believe that these would be far more effective means of undermining the international capability of the al-Qa'ida than taking out just ones or twos," he said.