Taliban resistance a 'hornet's nest'

Intelligence failings meant British soldiers were not prepared for the fierce Taliban resistance they encountered when they first deployed to Helmand, the head of the armed forces said.

General Sir David Richards said UK forces "turned up a hornet's nest" when they moved into the violent province in southern Afghanistan in 2006.

"There was in some respects a failure of intelligence despite the efforts to get it right," he told the Commons defence committee.

Some 3,300 British troops serving with 16 Air Assault Brigade took over control of Helmand in May 2006.

They quickly became engaged in some of the most ferocious fighting UK forces had experienced since the Second World War.

MPs today questioned top military leaders about why they failed to assess correctly the strength of the Taliban insurgency in the province.

General Sir Peter Wall, the head of the Army, agreed there "clearly was" a failure of intelligence.

"I absolutely accept that what we found when we had our forces on the ground was starkly different from what we had anticipated and been hoping for," he said.

"We were ready for an adverse reaction but we did not, to be fair, expect it to be as vehement as it turned out to be."

He added: "We had always anticipated Taliban potential intent. What we probably underestimated was their capacity."

Gen Wall said every effort was made to establish a clear picture of the situation in Helmand before British troops were deployed there.

He said the British intelligence agencies were "actively engaged" and noted that there was even a former member of the mujahideen resistance who had fought in Afghanistan in his "gap year" on the staff of the military's Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ).

Gen Richards said most of the information available related to the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, which was "pretty positive and benign", rather than the enemy-held territory in northern Helmand.

"The crux of the problem was when we went into the north and arguably turned up a hornet's nest," he said.

General Sir Nicholas Houghton, Vice Chief of the Defence Staff, said there were a number of factors behind the serious upsurge in violence after British troops were deployed to Helmand in 2006.

These included the Taliban's portrayal of moves to eradicate opium plants as evidence that the UK forces wanted to destroy local farmers' livelihoods, the appointment of a new provincial governor which destabilised the tribal balance, and previous intensive American military operations which "whipped up" the situation.

The MPs also asked whether the killing of Osama bin Laden in his Pakistan hideout by US special forces had affected the situation in Afghanistan.

Gen Richards said there were indications that some parts of the insurgency were worried that the al Qaida leader's death could have an impact on their ability to raise money.

But he stressed that Washington had made no decision on whether to pull its troops out of Afghanistan any earlier as a result of bin Laden's killing.

"It is a net positive, but we don't really know yet how it will come through," he said.

Gen Richards said large numbers of Afghan soldiers and police were being recruited and trained, in line with the strategy for withdrawing foreign combat forces in 2014.

But he added that the jury was "still out" on whether their quality could be maintained after the pull-out of Nato troops.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

Crisp sales are in decline

As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'