BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 06:46 GMT 07:46 UK
Afghanistan warning decoded
By Paul Wood
Defence correspondent, BBC News

The Commons defence committee has said Nato must commit more troops and aid to Afghanistan if it is to establish a stable democracy.

The MPs' report was carefully worded, but what was their message in plain terms?

British soldiers in Afghanistan
The committee says a lack of troops is hindering operations

The language of the report is careful, measured. But there is no mistaking the central message - things are going badly, alarmingly wrong in Afghanistan.

With an accumulation of detail, the defence select committee paints a sorry picture - muddled strategy, shirking allies, a lack of helicopters and, stuck in the middle, the servicemen and women who have to make the whole thing work.

Here then are the committee's conclusions, decoded:

1. There are too few troops on the ground to win.

If the mission is to succeed, says the committee, it will require a commitment of size and strength greater than the international community is "willing to acknowledge, let alone to make."

2. If we are not exactly losing, we are not winning either.

The committee said: "Violence is increasing and spreading to the relatively peaceful Kabul and the northern provinces."

3. Too many Afghan civilians are being killed.

The committee said: "Civilian casualties undermine support for (the Nato force) Isaf and the Afghan government and fuel the insurgency, further endangering our troops."

4. There are still not enough British helicopters to do the job.

"UK helicopter operations in Afghanistan are not sustainable at the present intensity."

5. Some of our Nato allies are leaving us in the lurch.

"The reluctance of some Nato countries to provide troops for the Isaf mission in Afghanistan is undermining Nato's credibility and also Isaf operations."

6. You can't fight the Taleban and opium at the same time.

The coalition's strategy lacks "clarity and coherence". "Uncertainty among Afghans about Isaf's role in poppy eradication puts UK forces at risk."

7. The Afghan security forces are a disappointment - some useless, some corrupt, some actually working against us.

"Police failure and corruption alienate support for the government of Afghanistan and add to grievances which fuel the insurgency." Even the Afghan army "are some way off operating independently".

8. So the exit strategy has problems, as in Iraq.

"We recommend that the government clarify its planning assumptions for the UK deployment to Afghanistan and state the likely length of the deployment beyond the summer of 2009."

9. The media war isn't going well, either.

"The Taleban is ahead in the information campaign. The government (must) more effectively the presentation of Isaf's objectives and the way in which developments in Afghanistan are reported."

'Demanding conditions'

Against that, the committee also said that the Taleban did not present a "strategic threat" to security in Afghanistan. It noted that the MoD had promised more helicopters.

The report also stressed that: "Our forces try their utmost to minimise civilian casualties on operations."

The committee chairman James Arbuthnot said: "Our service personnel, not least our helicopter air and ground crews, are doing a great job in extremely demanding conditions.

"But they are working to the limit and that cannot go on forever. The MoD must do more or else the whole mission could be undermined."

Allies' role

The Conservative's defence spokesman Liam Fox called the report "a severe indictment of the government's handling of the situation in Afghanistan".

He went on: "It makes a mockery of former Defence Secretary John Reid's claim only last year that British troops could be in Afghanistan for three years without a shot being fired."

The Defence Secretary Des Browne said the report recognised that "we are performing well against a challenging background" but added that other Nato nations "should do more".

"The UK continues to lobby other nations to provide more in terms of military and non-military resources," he said.

This may now be the focus of the Afghan debate - if it is important to beat the Taleban, why aren't our allies doing more?

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit


Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific