Troop numbers breach guidelines

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The Independent Online

Thousands more more troops will be needed in Helmand for there to be a viable chance of fighting Taliban terrorist tactics, according to the British military's new guide to counter-insurgency.

"Security and Stabilisation, The Military Contribution" is the British answer to US General David Petraeus's guidance on counter-insurgency. It aims to be a definitive blueprint to commanders on how to deal with the changing face of modern warfare and protect and influence the civilian population.

Yesterday, Major General Paul Newton explained that the key message to emerge was that forces needed to be more agile and urgently adapt to an enemy that was swift to react and change its tactics from conventional warfare to insurgency.

"There are tough choices ahead and more of the same is not going to be enough," he explained. "Our adversaries are agile. We need to recognise the flaws in our own system and make ourselves a damn sight more agile."

At a time when Barack Obama is considering requests for an additional 40,000 troops in Afghanistan and Gordon Brown has urged Nato members to contribute more forces, the document states that even with the American surge into Helmand this summer, numbers fall well below the historically accepted level for such a conflict.

In the mid-70s troop levels in Northern Ireland were 23 security personnel per 1,000 of population while in Helmand this summer the combined number of British, American and Afghan security forces – a total of 18,000 – came to just 13 to 1,000.

"Some historical analysis indicates that a ratio of 20:1000 is a viable benchmark, although the validity of this analysis is currently being questioned. In the 2008 operation against the Tamil Tigers, force density was as high as 60:1000," it said.

"The number of forces required to carry out security tasks in stabilisation may exceed those needed during conventional combat operations ... Ultimately, success will involve recruiting, training, possibly equipping indigenous security forces and embedding with them," the guidance explained.

"It may also entail the creation of non-standard security structures, such as village or neighbourhood guards and tribal police forces in order to attain the critical mass which population protection demands."

Insisting that it was "not all about boots on the ground" Major General Newton said the report advocated a variety of other tactics such as engagement of reconcilable enemy forces and decentralising decisions to commanders on the ground.

The new doctrine, which is already being used in training, has drawn upon the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan, but is not focused on the current conflict, Major General Newton explained.

It insists that creating a stable nation can only be achieved through security, effective governance and rule of law and the ultimate solution must be a political one.