| Ander Nieuws week 39 / nieuwe oorlog 2006 |
Karzai blamed for 'hellhole' strategy

Sunday Times
September 17, 2006
By Michael Smith
Political pressure from the Afghan government forced British troops to adopt the highly controversial tactic of taking defensive positions in remote outposts, the commander of the British taskforce in southern Afghanistan said last week.
Brigadier Ed Butler, the Old Etonian commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, took full responsibility for setting up the platoon houses - described by British soldiers as murderous "hellholes" - at Sangin and Musa Qala, where 15 British soldiers have died.
In an interview with The Sunday Times last week he admitted the decision to send troops into the frontline bases was made "under not inconsiderable pressure" from President Hamid Karzai.
He explained that when British troops began arriving in the south in April to take charge of Helmand province they encountered strong Taliban resistance. The area had been largely ignored by the Americans, who had only 100 special operations troops based there, and the Taliban were already very active.
"We knew already it was going to be a fight," Butler said. "The very action of putting a size 10 boot into Helmand was bound to provoke a reaction."
The Afghan government's most northerly district centre at Baghran had been overrun by the Taliban, who by mid-May were launching probing attacks on Musa Qala and Sangin.
At the time, Butler was telling reporters back in London: "We are not going out to look for trouble." He found it aplenty.
Butler dispatched the Parachute Regiment's elite pathfinder platoon to chase the Taliban into the mountains but within days they were back, attacking all five northern district centres. It became clear that the Afghan authorities were concerned that the Taliban were on the brink of a propaganda victory.
With the government's writ under serious threat, the governor telephoned Karzai, who put pressure on the British to act. "The governor was concerned, and the Afghan government was concerned, that northern Helmand was about to fall to the Taliban," Butler said.
They believed that if the local population saw the Taliban taking control, they would back them instead of the authorities in Kabul.
"We were under not inconsiderable pressure from the Afghan government to go in and stop the district centres falling to the Taliban," said Butler, a politics graduate from Exeter University who served with the SAS.
Senior Nato sources have suggested that he should have resisted the calls to put troops into northern platoon houses as they became sitting targets for the enemy. But Butler said he had little choice.
"If the leader of a pro-western Islamic state that has adopted democratic government and principles asks for your support, you're in quite an awkward position to say no."
There was also a good operational reason for the tactics, he explained. If his troops had not gone north, the Taliban's front line would have run along the main road from Kandahar, cutting the province in two. "We would have had the enemy on our doorstep and they would have picked a fight."
The decision to put troops into the platoon houses had been made by him on "political and operational imperatives" and was backed by his commanders in London.
The presence of the platoon houses acted like a magnet for the Taliban, but there have been "positives", Butler argued. "They've acted like breakwaters for the Taliban, who have thrown themselves against them repeatedly and been overwhelmingly beaten.
"We have never lost a platoon house and they have never managed to do what they wanted to do, which was to tear down the Afghan flag from above a district centre."
Although the British refuse to talk about numbers of enemy dead, Butler admitted that the hundreds of Taliban killed in the fighting was another of the positives. "They have expended a considerable number of their forces. We have killed a significant number of Taliban."
Copyright 2006 Times Newspapers Ltd.
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| Ander Nieuws week 39 / nieuwe oorlog 2006 |