The commander of British troops in Afghanistan has said troop levels need to be raised by at least 50 per cent to fight a resurgent Taliban in Helmand and an international presence would be required in the country for up to 15 years. Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith said the reinforcements – first disclosed in The Independent a month ago – may arrive as Nato and the US plan tactics to counter the continuing violence.
The US is pushing for a thorough revamping of operations in Afghanistan as the American General David Petraeus, credited with reducing violence in Iraq, prepares to take over the running of the Afghan mission.
Brigadier Carleton-Smith's comments come a week after the US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, said that Britain was likely to increase its contribution in Afghanistan.
The Ministry of Defence said several hundred extra troops are due to be added and levels on the ground are kept under continuous review. But senior officers say UK forces are facing serious overstretch and any large-scale deployment is unlikely in the near future with the continuing commitment in Iraq.
The US is sending up to 12,000 extra troops to Afghanistan as part of a "mini-surge" and the American administration has been pressing other Nato members, including the UK, to raise their contributions. At the same time, Pentagon officials are pushing for a more streamlined chain of command with much of the decision making moving from Nato to the US Central Command.
The UK force currently stands at just over 8,000. The brigadier, who leads the 16th Air Assault Brigade, said yesterday that he could use another 4,000 troops. "I think there is a recognition that more soldiers would stabilise areas here that remain dangerous more quickly," he said. "I think we could probably easily consume in Helmand another brigade.
"I could certainly find sufficient tasks in Helmand to use an additional brigade, but more widely any additional reinforcements in Afghanistan need to be balanced round the tactical requirements not just in Helmand but across the region in the south and indeed the American support in the east. There is work to be done across the region."
The commander also warned that Pakistan continues to be a problem, with fighters crossing the border to carry out attacks on British and allied forces. "They won't be strong enough to change the regime, but they are strong enough to be dangerous, deadly and keep this insurgency going," he said.
"This is a generational problem and that will take 10 to 15 years to change, and we will need to be here."