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Last Updated: Monday, 15 May 2006, 01:29 GMT 02:29 UK
Viewpoint: British Army's Afghan challenge
Major General Patrick Cordingley, former commander of the British Army's 7th Armoured Brigade - the "Desert Rats" - has just returned from a reconnaissance mission with a brigade due to deploy to Afghanistan later this year.

He was briefed on the current state of the country, particularly in relation to reconstruction and the war on drugs. He's written a diary, and here is the first instalment:

We arrive in Kabul at 0700, just as the sun's rays begin to hit the snow-capped mountains that surround the city.

The brigade reconnaissance team that I am attached to will spend the day in a series of briefings about their deployment to Afghanistan, and the current situation in the country.

A child at the Masjid-i Jami mosque in Herat
Life is difficult for most Afghan children
We already knew that 40% of the population is short of food, life expectancy is under 45 and infant mortality runs at one in five. Eighty percent of the population is illiterate. Only one in 20 houses has electricity.

The country is in a poor state after years of conflict. It is also in the grip of insurgency and instability.

The number of anti-coalition militia, be it Taleban or al-Qaeda, is not insignificant.

Local disputes over land, water, drugs and religion are exploited by the insurgents to help diminish the authority of the central government in Kabul.

Power currently lies in many hands: the government of President Hamid Karzai, tribal chiefs, warlords and criminal gangs.

Nato's International Security Assistance Force, Isaf, must work with the Afghan army and police to establish the rule of law.

Without security, there is no hope of running a successful opium poppy elimination programme.

With 37 nations involved in both security and reconstruction, some under American command and others under Isaf, problems surface on a daily basis.

The Romanians, for instance, recently started patrolling in their Russian-built armoured personnel carriers. The locals thought an old enemy had returned.

Different views

We look forward to hearing how the vast sums promised in aid are being spent. Is there agreement between nations?

During the morning, we move from the British to American, and then Italian-led Isaf headquarters.

We're told, by our very senior hosts, that the security state is manageable but the nature of the threat is changing.

In particular, suicide bombing incidents have more than doubled in the last few months.

Now the poppy harvest is nearly over, and it has been a bumper year, terrorism will increase. It pays well.

British soldier on patrol in Kabul
Nato soldiers have to win the trust of local people
There is, however, a collective sense of calm and hope, as President Karzai is in a strong position.

But also there was a very obvious variation of thought in each commander's mind.

Reconstitution money should be channelled through the government and not simply handed out to reward co-operation, say the British. "We don't buy off - we do sustainable reworks."

And a little later, a similar view from the Italians: "Focus on the population and not the enemy - so not to force the population to support the enemy."

Against this is the view that reconciliation won't work with cunning, politically sophisticated activists.

They have to be eliminated, say the Americans, and the controlled use of force is acceptable.

The British military view is that they have come to give the Afghan people the hope of a better future.

They plan to achieve this in Helmand Province by creating a security bubble or ambience around this poppy-producing lawless southern state.

This will be in conjunction with the Afghan security forces.

Next we go to Kandahar and Helmand Province, 200 miles to the south.

The trip should last three days.

My aim is to find out more about drug-elimination, and how we and the Americans intend to police the country.

You can listen to the next instalment of Major General Cordingley's diaries from Afghanistan on Radio 4's Today programme or read it on the BBC News website on Tuesday.

Hear Patrick Cordingly talk about his Afghan mission


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