Socialist Worker

Stalemate in Helmand

Issue No. 2150

Nothing illustrates the problems of the occupation more than the hapless misadventure of British troops in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan.

According to intelligence sources quoted by the influential Royal United Services Institute (Rusi), Taliban leader Mullah Omar ordered his forces in September 2008 to concentrate on pinning down British troops in Helmand.

In 2006, occupation forces poured into the region in an attempt to expand the remit of the Afghan government.

Instead the move widened and deepened the resistance to foreign forces.

The Taliban hoped a “hard pounding” of British soldiers would draw in troops from other regions, freeing up the insurgency to spread. The tactic seems to be working.

The bulk of the new surge of US troops are heading to the region to bail out the British forces, while the British officers have been complaining that they have insufficient troops and equipment to fend off the insurgents.

The heavy fighting has forced Britain to bolster its forces there by sending in more reservists and part time soldiers.

In his grim assessment of the war, General Sir Michael Rose warned, “It is clear that in Afghanistan coalition forces have now reached their limit of exploitation with regards to manpower”.

It is tempting to lay the blame for the miscalculation in the Helmand province on a misguided decision by the Ministry of Defence. But the rot goes deeper.

Michael Clarke, the director of Rusi, said of the dilemma, “The coalition can lose the Afghan campaign by losing in Helmand, but it cannot win it there.

“It can lose the whole campaign on the home front through a disaster in Helmand, but it cannot win on the ground in Afghanistan itself without significant victories elsewhere.”

The battle for control in Helmand shows the desperation of an occupation running out of options, and spiralling towards disaster.

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