Things are going from worse to hellish in Afghanistan.
Soldiers deployed in Helmand province five years on from the US-led invasion, and six months after the deployment of a large British force, have told The Independent that the sheer ferocity of the fighting in the Sangin valley, and privations faced by the troops, are far worse than generally known.
"We are flattening places we have already flattened, but the attacks have kept coming. We have killed them by the dozens, but more keep coming, either locally or from across the border," one said. "We have used B1 bombers, Harriers, F16s and Mirage 2000s. We have dropped 500lb, 1,000lb and even 2,000lb bombs. At one point our Apaches [helicopter gunships] ran out of missiles they have fired so many. Almost any movement on the ground gets ambushed. We need an entire battle group to move things. Yet they will not give us the helicopters we have been asking for.
Lt. Gen. Richards, the British commander of NATO's forces, said,
We did not expect the ferocity of the engagements. We also expected the Taliban to carry out hit and run raids. Instead we have often been fighting toe to toe, endless close-quarters combat. It has been exhausting. I remember when we had to extract a Danish recce group which was getting attacked on all sides; it was bedlam. We have greater firepower, so we tend to win, but, of course, they can take their losses while our casualties will invariably lead to concern back home. You also have to think that each time we kill one, how many more enemies we are creating. And, of course, the lack of security means hardly any reconstruction is taking place now, so we are not exactly winning hearts and minds.
This follows a pretty devastating exposé in the Sunday Times by the former aide-de-camp to the UK commander in Helmand.
“Having a big old fight is pointless and just making things worse,” said Captain Leo Docherty, of the Scots Guards, who became so disillusioned that he quit the army last month.
“All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are going to turn against the British,” he said. “It’s a pretty clear equation — if people are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would.
“We’ve been grotesquely clumsy — we’ve said we’ll be different to the Americans who were bombing and strafing villages, then behaved exactly like them.”
We behave like the Americans because they passed on the mission to us in NATO because their military was being stretched by Iraq. Ourselves and the Canadians should ignore the sensitivities of the Pentagon and reconsider the proposals of the Senlis Council re legitimizing the production of opium poppies, which would help meet the world's dearth of opiate-based medicines. Or is it too late for sense to prevail?