UK minister acknowledges lack of military hardware in Afghanistan

Daniel MacArthur-Seal
22 July 2009

Lord Malloch-Brown, British minister for the UN, Africa and Asia, admitted in an interview with the Daily Telegraph that British forces "definitely don't have enough helicopters" in Afghanistan. In a statement later issued from the Foreign Office, Malloch-Brown qualified his admission, affirming that "there are without doubt sufficient resources for current operations". Gordon Brown attempted to quell the debate claiming, "We have the helicopters we need". The statements come amid a media furore over the adequacy of army equipment provoked by the deaths of eighteen servicemen this month.

The toD verdict: Calls from the military for more funding are age-old, but the support of a senior cabinet minister distinguishes the present crisis. Public disquiet about the level of casualties in Afghanistan has been fuelled by the broader desire to see British troops returned home, with two thirds of the public according to recent polls wanting full withdrawal within a year. Malloch-Brown's comments clearly reflect such a mood, questioning the importance of Afghanistan in combating global terrorism. It is the fundamental disagreement about strategy which has made deaths in Afghanistan so poignant, but the majority of the press continues to present the issue as one of equipment and logistics rather than grand strategy. Keep up to date with the latest developments and sharpest perspectives in a world of strife and struggle. Sign up to receive toD's daily security briefings via email by clicking here

More informative was Malloch-Brown's admission that the government had not properly prepared the public for the fact that Britain was "going on the offensive". As in Iraq, British forces under pressure to minimise casualties had accordingly minimised their exposure to risk in Afghanistan, leaving the Taliban to take control of areas in which they are only now being challenged.

By moving on to the offensive, international forces have raised the possibility of success, following the "clear, hold and build" strategy advocated by many analysts, including most recently by Paddy Ashdown. But the strategy will inevitably lead to a greater numbers of casualties, and these may undermine the support of the third of the public that remain in favour of continuing operations until Afghanistan is stable. The equipment debate reveals the formidable difficulties of waging a war effectively in a region only seen as peripheral to national interests.

Six police officers killed during Taliban attacks in eastern Afghanistan   

The Taliban yesterday launched a series of attacks on government and security facilities in Jalalabad and Gardez in eastern Afghanistan. Taliban gunmen, some of whom wore burqas to disguise explosive suicide belts, attacked the governor's compound, police department and intelligence department in Gardez and a US airfield in Jalalabad, killing six Afghan police and intelligence officers. Eight Taliban gunmen were killed and one captured as police responded to the attacks.

Pakistan fears Helmand offensive will provoke security crisis

Pakistani intelligence officials fear that the UK-US offensive in southern Afghanistan may push Taliban forces across the border, further destabilising the restive Pakistani province of Baluchistan. The unnamed officers told the New York Times that Pakistan will not be able to bring sufficient troops to the border to avert a major influx of Taliban fighters. Baluchistan already poses a serious concern for the Pakistani security forces who continue to struggle to suppress a native Baluch insurgency.

Richard Holbrooke, the US envoy to the middle east, arrived in Pakistan last night, where he will hear concerns over the effects of the offensive, a senior official told the Associated Foreign Press. 

Clinton fears North Korean nuclear ties with Myanmar

Secretary of State Hilary Clinton revealed US fears of a "transfer of nuclear technology" from North Korea to Myanmar. She highlighted the destabilising impact a nuclear Myanmar would have on he region in advance of the US-ASEAN conference held today and tomorrow.

All ten ASEAN members, including Myanmar, are also signatories of the Southeast Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty and are expected to today sign a regional Treaty on Amity and Cooperation, pledging non-interference in domestic affairs and the peaceful settlement of disputes.

Gold mine workers ambushed in Papua

Two people were reported to have been killed today after gunmen ambushed a twelve-truck convoy carrying US mining contractors in the Papua province of Indonesia. The attack is the latest in a string of strikes against PT Freeport, the region's largest gold mining company, which earlier in the month left two Indonesians and one Australian dead. The police yesterday detained seventeen people in connection with previous attacks.

The company's activities have caused resentment among Papuans, who have criticised its environmental impact and the minimal revenue reinvested in the local economy. Papua is also home to a forty-year-old insurgency, the Free Papua Movement, which has sought independence for the province. Although Indonesian authorities blamed the movement for the attacks, their involvement, if any, is not yet established. 

Niger Delta militants free six hostages

Militants operating in Nigeria's delta region released six hostages captured on 4 July from the oil tanker The Sichem Peace. The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND) released the hostages as a sign of its commitment to a sixty-day ceasefire declared last week. Over 200 workers have been held captive since the insurgency in the region intensified in 2006. MEND spokesmen Jomo Gbomo called on the government to reciprocate, withdrawing forces from the Niger Delta and reallocating oil revenues to the impoverished region. 

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