Leading article: Our troops in Afghanistan need the right tools for the job

The Liberal Democrat leader is justified in raising his concerns

Share
Related Topics

There was a terrible irony to the fact that the seventh British soldier to die in the last seven days in Afghanistan was a serviceman from the Light Dragoons. For once again the accusation has been made that we are sending our troops into battle too lightly armed for the heavy task with which they have been charged. The Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg reiterated that indictment yesterday and there is clear force to his arguments.

Early in the campaign, troops were hampered by a shortage of body armour. Now they are travelling in vehicles which are too lightly protected. Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Thorneloe, the highest-ranking British officer to be killed since the Falklands War, died while travelling in a Viking armoured car which does not have a v-shaped hull or substantial under-body protection. A coroner, holding an inquest into another Helmand death, has this week expressed concerns that the light vehicles were unsuited to the war in Afghanistan.

There are also concerns that British troops have too few helicopters in Helmand where the ground is littered with Taliban bombs. The Army has only the same number it had in 2006 – when we had half the number of troops in Afghanistan. There are questions too about the quality of the helicopters, in one of which a soldier has died in the past week. More have been promised; some Merlin transport helicopters are being transferred from Iraq and eight Chinook Mark 3s – which have been grounded for the past eight years because of a software problem – are being converted from SAS use to basic troop carriers. But they will not be ready for operations in Afghanistan until next year at the earliest.

The conflict in Afghanistan is complex and difficult but it is, on balance, a war worth fighting to crush the camps which train terrorists for assaults on Western cities. Until now there have been serious problems about the way it was conducted. There has been a lack of co-ordination between allied troops. There has been insufficient attention on Pakistan through whose porous borders the Taliban pass unhindered. And there has been too much reliance on air power which has killed too many Afghan civilians, at a rate of three every four days last year, when US air strikes rose by 70 per cent. The Obama surge is addressing all that.

But problems remain. A massive state-building exercise is required but the promised aid has not all materialised. A large amount of what has been paid has been absorbed in the profits of private contractors and consultants. And only 5 per cent of aid has been directed at finding alternatives to the opium-poppy growing industry which provides the livelihoods of more than 70 per cent of the population. Large-scale poverty reduction is required. So is better protection of civilians; the military should not just be rooting out insurgents but establishing law and order if the credibility of Hamid Karzai's government is to be restored throughout the country.

To enable all that there is a war to be fought. We have not provided enough troops to do it properly, so that our soldiers are unable to hold and rebuild territory once they have won it. We have given them, in the words of General Stanley McChrystal, the new commander of Nato forces in the country, tasks wider than their numbers will allow them to do. In war, the old aphorism has it, old men send young men off to die. Our old men, when they do that, should give our troops the resources they need to have a fighting chance.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

£30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

£34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

Developer - WinForms, C#

£280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron's 'compassionate conservatism' is now lying on its back  

Tory modernisation has failed under David Cameron

Michael Dugher
Russian President Vladimir Putin 'hits his foes where it hurts'  

Dominic Raab: If Western politicians’ vested interests protect Putin, take punishment out of their hands

Dominic Raab
Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform