THE British task force sent into Afghanistan’s Helmand province in 2006 was badly equipped, undermanned and not strong enough to take on the Taliban, a scathing government report has concluded.
In the Operations in Afghanistan report, the Defence Select Committee slammed senior military officers and government ministers for their lack of foresight when taking over from US troops in the region five years ago.
The committee highlighted the shortage of air power and lack of urgency in responding to the increased threat of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as major factors in the unexpectedly high death toll among British troops.
Senior officers were rebuked for claiming that field commanders were satisfied with the back-up they received despite the opposite being true.
“The committee is disturbed by the fact that in 2006 the Secretary of State was being told that commanders on the ground were content with the support they were being given in Helmand when clearly they were not,” a defence committee statement said.
“The report regards it as unacceptable that hard-pressed forces in such a difficult operation as Helmand should have been denied the necessary support to carry out the mission from the outset.”
The task force was given the responsibility of securing the area, helping to rebuild war-ravaged towns and create a functioning political system, but ended up being dragged into a bloody conflict.
Key flaws in the decision to deploy the force included the provision of only five Chinook helicopters, around half the necessary total, and the failure to supply any vehicles capable of withstanding an IED blast.
“We believe that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) did not respond quickly enough to these challenges as they developed,” the report found.
James Arbuthnot, chairman of the Defence Committee, added: “Our forces have achieved the best tactical outcomes possible in very difficult circumstances due to the high quality and training of our personnel.
“But the force levels deployed throughout 2006, 2007 and 2008 were never going to achieve what was being demanded of the armed forces by the UK, NATO and the Afghan government,” he added.
Current Defence Secretary Liam Fox insisted that the major problems had been resolved.
“Since 2009 we have seen increases of force levels in Helmand and through the growth of the Afghan forces that have halted the momentum of the insurgency,” he told the Sunday Telegraph.
“While there is much still to do, we are on track to achieve our target of ending UK combat operations in Afghanistan by 2015. We will not abandon Afghanistan,” he vowed.
A British soldier was shot dead in the Nahr-e Saraj district of Helmand, the 376th British serviceman to die in Afghanistan since 2001, the MoD announced yesterday.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced this month that Britain will withdraw a further 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, taking numbers there to 9000, as the West prepares to hand over security duties by 2015.