Britain and its international partners have the “strategy and resolve” to win the military campaign in Afghanistan even if it may take a number of years, the British army’s new commander said yesterday.
General David Richards, who took over as chief of the general staff in August, wrote in a letter to the Telegraph that military success would be reached when the Afghans could take on the Taliban without international help.
Richards also wrote that Britain had to do better to convince its public about the need for a military presence when the death toll was rising.
“We will have achieved military success when the Afghans can sustain the fight without our help,” he wrote.
“Although it will take a few years to reach that point, the campaign is winnable and we, and our Afghan and international partners, have the strategy and resolve to see it through.”
Richards courted controversy in August when he said Britain could be involved in Afghanistan for another “30 to 40 years.”
He did not go beyond his reference of a “few years” in his letter, but added: “Even when adequate security levels have been achieved, Afghanistan, one of the poorest and least developed countries in the world, is likely to need some form of international help for far longer.”
Public opinion is increasingly turning against the campaign as the number of British casualties rises and the government and military commanders appear to be at loggerheads over equipment and troop number levels.
More than 220 British soldiers have died in the eight-year US-led war against the Taliban, with the past four months having been among the bloodiest as the Islamist insurgents have increased attacks on international forces.
Richards, a former NATO commander in Afghanistan, warned that public opinion should not determine policy because the risk of failure was too dangerous instability in the region and increased attacks on the West.
“In particular, there would be a severe risk to the security of nuclear-armed Pakistan,” he wrote.
“It has been a struggle to persuade the British public about this and we need to do better.
“But we should not allow our security policy to be driven by opinion polls.”
Last month, Richards said Western forces in Afghanistan had the ingredients to defeat the Taliban, ousted from power in late 2001, but must still find the right formula.
Coalition forces are currently reviewing their strategy, with US President Barack Obama considering a military recommendation to boost his force with a further reported 40 000 troops to beyond 100 000 next year.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced last week that an extra 500 British troops could be sent to Afghanistan, boosting numbers to 9500, providing key conditions are met, including Kabul agreeing to provide Afghan troops to be trained and fight alongside British forces.