British troops were “not up” to the task of securing Afghanistan’s troubled Helmand province and the local governor pleaded for US reinforcements, American diplomats said in cables released by WikiLeaks.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai also thought security in the province, a Taliban stronghold, had deteriorated after British troops were stationed there in 2006, the cables obtained by the website and reported in The Guardian newspaper Friday said.
“We and Karzai agree the British are not up to the task of securing Helmand,” US diplomats from the Kabul embassy said in a 2008 cable published by the Guardian, Reuters reports.
The Helmand governor, Gulab Mangal, told a US team led by Vice President Joe Biden in January 2009 that American forces were urgently needed as British security in Sangin district did not even extend to the main bazaar.
“I do not have anything against them (the British) but they must leave their bases and engage with the people,” Mangal said, according to a cable sent from the US embassy in Kabul.
“Stop calling it the Sangin district and start calling it the Sangin base — all you have done here is built a military camp next to the city,” he added.
The Ministry of Defence and the US officer now in charge of NATO forces in southwestern Afghanistan, where Helmand lies, defended the performance of British troops.
“UK forces did an excellent job in Sangin … delivering progress by increasing security and taking the fight to the insurgency,” the ministry said, referring to one of the most violent areas of Helmand.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said the cables did not represent the opinion of US President Barack Obama’s administration nor the “vast majority of Americans.”
“We greatly appreciate the British commitment,” she said in an interview from Bahrain shown on BBC television.
“I personally want to convey to the government and the people of the United Kingdom both our deep respect and admiration for the extraordinary efforts and our regret if anything that was said by anyone suggests to the contrary,” she said.
Major-General Richard Mills, a US Marine Corps officer, said the performance of British troops was “nothing short of magnificent.”
At least 345 British soldiers have been killed in the now nine-year long Afghan conflict.
The public praise contrasts with the private appraisals of British performance in Helmand outlined in the cables. The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan in 2007-2008 also criticised the British strategy, the Guardian said. “He was particularly dismayed by the British effort. They had made a mess of things in Helmand, their tactics were wrong, and the deal that London cut on Musa Qala (town) had failed,” Commander Dan McNeil, was quoted by U.S. diplomats as saying.
McNeil was referring to a cease-fire agreement with the Taliban that allowed the British to pull troops out of the besieged town of Musa Qala in 2006.
President Karzai was quoted as telling US officials that the arrival of British troops in the southern province in 2006 had coincided with a deterioration of the situation there.
“When I first returned to Afghanistan,” Karzai was quoted as saying in a February 2009 cable from the US embassy, “I had only 14 American soldiers with me.”
“But we had the Afghan people with us, they believed in the moral correctness of what we were doing, and even Helmand was safe for girls to go to school. Now, 4,000 (sic) British soldiers are in Helmand, and the people are not safe.”