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Thursday, 15 November, 2001, 12:11 GMT
War View: 'Decide our aims, and stick to them'
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Ian Wright, a former major in the British Army, who served as an intelligence officer in Bosnia, says peacekeeping requires clear thinking.

The sudden collapse of Taleban resistance in Afghanistan means that once again British troops are preparing to deploy on a peace support operation. The British Armed Forces experience in such operations is second to none.

Ten years ago the British Army had already notched up 25 consecutive years of experience in Northern Ireland. Since then, in between the routine deployments to Northern Ireland, the Armed Forces have fought the Gulf War and deployed to Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Sierra Leone on Peace Support Operations.

The desperate humanitarian situation has to be addressed

The current situation within Afghanistan is confused. The one thing that is clear is the political imperative to take some form of immediate and visible action in response to the sudden demise of the Taleban.

Invaluable experience

As winter arrives the desperate humanitarian situation has to be addressed. The Armed Forces can be used to facilitate the humanitarian operation.

Their experience and logistic capabilities are invaluable. Even in relatively stable situations the security and protection the Armed Forces provide to the distribution of aid is important. In Afghanistan it may be vital.

The Mujahideen can be fairly intimidating

As they check and pack their equipment the troops will be fully aware of the importance of their deployment.

There will be a degree of concern for what lays ahead. This will be balanced by the collective confidence gained through the experience of recent years.

First deployment

For a few this will be the first operational deployment. They will worry about how they will react to the first group of gun-toting Mujahideen they encounter; from personal experience I know the Mujahideen can be fairly intimidating.

They will worry about how they will react the first time shots are fired - it will happen. However, their nerves will be calmed by the experience around them. Today it is not uncommon to see Junior Non-Commissioned Officers with four or five operational medals.

Someone else will hvae to hunt for Bin Laden

The marines of 45 Commando Royal Marines and the paratroopers of The 2nd Battalion The Parachute Regiment will be confident in their ability to protect distribution points and escort humanitarian convoys through potentially hostile terrain.

Logistical expertise

The support elements will be confident that they can sustain the operation through an Afghan winter and add vital logistical expertise to humanitarian organisations.

There may be slightly more disquiet among military planners. The logistics of deployment are tried and tested. Getting the force to Afghanistan will be almost routine. Sustaining it perfectly feasible.

Planners concern will be focused on what exactly they are expected to achieve when they arrive. Their objectives must be clearly defined and within the capability of the force deployed.

The logistics of deployment are tried and tested.

At present the Ministry of Defence is referring to the deployment of a stabilisation force. The Armed Forces Minister, Adam Ingram, said that the troops would perform a peacekeeping role. American officials are talking in terms of humanitarian bridgeheads. The three are very different.

The UN operation in Bosnia was an example to all of what can happen to when troops are deployed without obvious objectives and "mission creep" occurs - a military term meaning "moving the goal posts".

The lessons of Bosnia must not be forgotten

In 1992 British troops wearing UN helmets were assisting in the distribution of humanitarian aid. In 1995 the Royal Welsh Fusiliers were besieged in Gorazde, Nato was bombing the Serbs and the Serbs massacred the male population of Srebrenica who had, until that point, been under the protection of a UN peacekeeping battalion.

Clear objectives

Afghanistan is not a UN operation. The situation is different, but the lessons of Bosnia must not be forgotten. Have a good reason for the deployment, set clear objectives and then stick to them.

Bin Laden is yet to be captured. Aid needs to be delivered. I am sure that the members of 45 Commando and 2 Para would love to assist in mopping up the Taleban or finding Bin Laden but, if they are sent to deliver aid, that is what they must do. Some one else will have to spend the winter hunting.

This is one of a series of differing opinions on the War on Afghanistan we are publishing. You can send your view about this or other articles by using the form below.

Your comments:

Sure the UK forces have good operational experience, but let's not forget that part of that experience was a defeat in Afganistan. The current situation is not very different from before, British troops will land, establish bases, and soon after that, the Afghans will turn their guns against them. What everybody in the West seems to forget, is that the Afghans deeply resent foreign intervention, especially a military one. So for all those who think the war is half won, I would like to say that its hardly started.
Khalid Russi, UK

The international community must be involved in stabilising the situation and in nation building. A small selection of nations centred around a self proclaimed lead nation will not work as any solution reached would be bound to offend somebody and sow the seeds for future discontent. We should take the formula that has been presented to us, in parts, in previous operations: a UN-led activity on all fronts (economic, political, social and military) with a declared endstate and a roadmap with deadlines and acheivable objectives as to how to get there (Dayton went part of the way there). To enable the road map to start, a robust professional multinational stabilisation force is required working under the UN mandate. For this to be credible it needs to be based on a large core of nations used to working together. Nato is a good example of this. I do not understand why to date I have not heard of any proposal to use NATO to lead and form the core of such a force - especially after this combination has been so successful in the past (IFOR, SFOR and KFOR).
Nicholas Lambert, UK

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