Top News

U.S. general critical of UK early tactics in Helmand

LONDON (Reuters) - A former top U.S. general in Afghanistan Monday criticised Britain’s military tactics in Helmand province in the south, saying commanders during 2006 did not pressure the Taliban sufficiently.

In an interview with Britain’s Times newspaper, Lieutenant General Benjamin Freakley said British troops deployed as if they were facing guerrillas in Northern Ireland.

In 2006 most of Britain’s 9,500 troops were in Helmand province, the scene of some of the fiercest fighting with the Taliban.

Freakley, the most senior U.S. operational commander in southern and eastern Afghanistan in 2006 until early 2007, said the British tactic of sending small groups of soldiers to defend district centres in Helmand, such as Musa Qala and Sangin, had “proved disastrous.”

“They thought of a platoon house as in Northern Ireland but in Afghanistan you have to be mobile against the Taliban,” Freakley told the Times.

“You can’t be in a fixed position because the Taliban will hit you.”

Freakley said Britain also failed to implement reconstruction programs that would keep the insurgents on the back foot.

“I was trying to get them (British commanders) to keep constant pressure on the adversary and to make sure that reconstruction efforts and spreading the governance of the Afghan Government went on simultaneously,” he said.

“Without simultaneous action you’re just poking your finger at the problem.”

Ousted by a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, the Taliban have made a comeback in recent years despite the growing number of foreign troops, now standing at some 150,000.

U.S. President Barack Obama, who has boosted U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, plans a strategy review in December after the mid-term elections. He has also said he intended to start pulling out U.S. troops from Afghanistan in July 2011 as long as the right conditions existed.

U.S. Army General David Petraeus, commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, said earlier this month he saw areas of progress.

Prime Minister David Cameron last month he might start withdrawing troops as early as next year, in line with an international aspiration to give Afghans full control of their security by the end of 2014.

Reporting by Karolina Tagaris; editing by Matthew Jones