Commonwealth Brigade to Afghanistan...

#1
The ‘NATO’ Operation in Afghanistan.

Sorry to start a new thread on a topic covered elsewhere, but I would like to try and generate a sensible and serious (yes, I mean it) debate/discussion on some of the (international) political and military drivers and implications for this mission.

I hope others will join the discussion to correct or clarify errors, and to generally add to the knowledge and understanding of this mission – and not just make asinine comments or veiled racial slurs.

To start off, I’d like to kick off with a very generalised background to the current and future operation. Subsequent to the events of 11 September 2001, US forces in conjunction with a number of allies, launched an attack on Afghanistan with the dual aim of removing the Taliban regime and shutting down the country as a base for international terrorists. It was an operation not specifically mandated prior to offensive action, but one which post-action received widespread international support and UN backing. However, four years down the line, neither of the original two aims has been entirely achieved.

For the past four years, 2 separate international military operations have been extant in Afghanistan: the US lead combat operation (OEF - Operation Enduring Freedom), and the NATO lead peace support operation (ISAF - International Security Assistance Force). Although one would expect the two operations to be mutually supporting, for a number of political and practical reasons, they are quite distinct both geographically and in execution.

The UK deployment to Helmand Province follows the earlier Canadian move to set up a peace support operation last August based in Kandahar Province, neighbouring Helmand. These two operations, based around the Provincial Reconstruction Team (PRT) concept, appear to be merging under one single command to be known as ‘Multinational Brigade (South)’, which in turn will report up to ISAF and not OEF as previously forces in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces have done. Multinational Brigade (South) (MNB(S)) is to initially be commanded by the in situ 1 (CAN) Mech Bde Gp - with support from significant HQ elements from 16 (UK) AA Bde. Command of MNB(S) is to rotate between Canada and the UK; Canadian forces taking the lead in Kandahar Province in conjunction with the existing Romanian forces, and UK forces in Helmand Province. As yet, no other major forces contributor has come forward, although the Dutch may choose to participate at battle group (BG) level, the Danish at company plus level, and the Australians and New Zealanders are being coerced into providing something.

Is this not looking like a ‘Commonwealth Brigade’ rather than a true ‘Multinational Brigade’? Moreover, can it genuinely be called a ‘NATO’ operation, when the vast majority of NATO members have specifically opted out of Afghanistan operations entirely, or chosen to remain North and West of Kabul? This is evidently a UK/Canada driven operation, with an attempt to bring onboard as many other participants as possible. But what happens if the newly elected Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, decides his military budget is better spent closer to home? Are we, the UK, going to be left to manage the whole AOR on an even more meagre shoestring than we have in Iraq?

Can we assume that in February 2007, when ARRC’s period of ISAF command closes, those 1,000 UK troops will not be replaced in country?

The ‘Helmand Taskforce’ has been cited as a “three-year deployment” by our Defence Secretary; so we can assume at least 3,500 troops in Afghanistan for the forseeable future.

Clearly, HMG sees the ‘Helmand Taskforce’ as an identical mission to that seen in ‘quieter’ parts of Afghanistan. However, the US, who are vacating from Helmand/Kandahar, appear to expect the ‘new’ MNB(S) to be a combat force. US Ambassador to NATO, Victoria Nuland, said, “NATO forces, …, will be prepared to perform missions up to and including what we call counter-insurgency which will obviously require a strong and robust fighting force” on Radio 4’s PM this week (my emphasis) - this alternative view has been enough to cause a “wobble” in Amsterdam. So, are 3 PARA going as ‘force protection’, ‘force projection’ or ‘COIN’?

So just what is the ‘Helmand Taskforce’ mission? Is it 'nation building'? Is it drug enforcement? Is it counter terrorism?

We must also not forget the most recent Defence White Paper (Delivering Security in a Changing World) which assumed that HM Armed Forces would be able to support,
"as a norm, and without creating overstretch, we should be able to mount:
- an enduring Medium Scale operation simultaneously with
- an enduring Small Scale operation and
- a one-off Small Scale intervention operation.

That we should be able to reconfigure our forces rapidly to carry out:
- the enduring Medium Scale operation and
- an enduring Small Scale operation simultaneously with
- a limited duration Medium Scale intervention operation.

That, given time to prepare, we should be capable of undertaking:
- a demanding one-off Large Scale operation while still maintaining a commitment to
- a simple Small Scale peace support operation.


Iraq, as is, lies between 'medium' and 'large' in MoD lexicon, Afghanistan is 'medium', and the Balkans 'small'. Clearly, these three 'enduring' missions exceed the force planning assumptions laid out by the MoD/HMG. Will they now recognise 'overstretch' or continue to deny it?

Although I expect the usual suspects to enter the fray with their nonsensical drivel, racial slurs, inept analysis and neo-con propaganda, I hope a sensible debate will ensue about an issue close to our minds as British troops prepare to deploy. The BBC has chosen to delve into ARRSE for comments on this subject, so lets give them something concrete to report on.

Merkator
 
#3
I forgot to mention originally, that although the Canadians are in the process of increasing their presence in Afghanistan from the current 900 troops to about 2,000 by the end of February, they have only "committed to maintain the PRT for at least another year," - quote from Canada Armed Forces website.
 
#4
The deployment makes me deeply uneasy for several reasons.

I do not see a clear tactical, operational or strategic plan in place. Are we aid workers, helping to build stuff and handing out sweeties ? Are we there to stop drug production ? Or are we there to give the Taliban and AQ a kicking ?

Realistically we have to take on all three roles as they are inextricably mixed. When we arrive we will become a target for AQ and friends by virtue of our existence. To combat this we need to get the locals onside. Given the state of the place a comparatively modest programme of public works will make a huge difference, and any security we provide will also be appreciated. However, the locals currently live off the proceeds of growing opium as it's the only crop that makes them any money. Any interference with that and we become the enemy. So we need to buy up the entire crop and buy into supporting them for some years until they can change to an alternative cash crop - or just let them get on with it. The latter course of action is probably politically unacceptable though given the end users in the UK.

However - and it's not something I've seen admitted by HMG - the drug dealers currently buying up the crop are not going to roll over and accept this. They are very rich - rich enough to buy the local civil authorities and fund insurgency against us. And their funding comes from druggies in the West. They can raise the price and we suffer as addicts commit more crime to fund their habit. Of course, we could give what we buy away free to addicts and eliminate this funding but no politician has the stones to do that.

So the jihadi will be shooting at us come what may. If we take any drug enforcement tasks on we run the very real risk of antagonising the locals, and we will antagonise the existing drug dealers. And the drug dealers now have a good reason to buy off the Afghan civil administration.

The proposed force density is pathetic given the size of the place. I don't think the public realise how few troops we're sending.

And then we have the nature of the place itself. We're going to the roughest part of a rough country. Assuming that things will be as they are round Kabul is the act of a deluded fool. Given the kicking foreigners have traditionally received in this part of the world we cannot underestimate the locals.

So all in all, the Magic 8 Ball says "Oh f@ck !" I reckon we're all going to get a scenic vacation out of this one.
 
#5
Poppy eradication is now a PMC role and a dangerous one. I think I saw where the pay is $400 a day but already a dozen or more contractors have been killed, maybe its higher.
 
#6
Well said, Strange. This will be a very tough posting, potentially more dangerous than Iraq. Whatever the official role given to British troops, it seems inevitable they will be in conflict with both the Opium warlords and AQ.
A classic example of "the enemy of my ememy is my friend; the Taliban suppresed the opium trade because it was un-Islamic. This is one reason why they were intially viewed as a good thing, by the West at least, when they took over.
I'm just glad I'm too old to serve. I think it's going to get very messy very quickly. I hope I'm wrong.
 
#7
Oh, and just to crank up one's blood temperature a little more, the latest 'NATO' plan of 'southwards expansion' includes Kundi, Nimroz, Uruzgan and Zabul Provinces in addition to Helmand and Kandahar.

Looking at the map, Nimroz Province is likely to be part of the UK AOR - so that adds almost another Wales to the TF Helmand responsibility.

Kundi, Uruzgun and Zabul Provinces are to the northwest of the MNB(S) AOR, and are due to get 'new' PRT and 'new' operating bases - but as yet, no forces have been allocated to them.

see here: http://www.nato.int/issues/afghanistan_stage3/index.html
 
#8
Do we have a difference of opinion here?

Hamid Karzai said:
the peace is all right, it's moving forward, it's good.
full text here: http://www.sky.com/skynews/article/0,,30200-13499360,00.html

Sunday Telegraph with Lt Col Henry Worsley said:
In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, Lt Col Henry Worsley described security in Helmand as "pretty poor" and said there was "no military power" there. ... He continued: "You talk about stirring up a hornets' nest and that probably will happen. We're going to move in many more forces here than they've had before. You'll have plenty more targets in the province." But the danger would be far outweighed by the good the troops could do.
full text here: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/mai...ml&sSheet=/portal/2006/01/29/ixportaltop.html

Take your pick gentlemen.

Also from the Telegraph: Generals have privately expressed concerns about the vagueness of the British mission and the difficulties of establishing stability in an area where tribal feuds, drug production and corruption are endemic.
 
#10
I remember being told by someone in the know when i was in Kabul a couple of yrs ago that the area bordering the Iranian/Afghan border was run by a Warlord that had more tanks and armed "soldiers" than the Afghan Goverment!
You can imagine it cant you......
"Hello dear chap, you dont mind handing over all your weapons etc and stop growing that poppy stuff do you"

If you have ever flown over Afghanistan you will notice its not the most ideal place for the "normal" crops that a farmer usually grows, a very arid country, and poppy being a hardy plant provides the source of income, all be it small, to the farmer from the Warlords.
 
#11
T6 raises an interesting point that the key issue in this area has been contracted to private industry, well known for their concern of national issues over the bottom line :roll:
Dyncorp's efforts last year were reported to falter after a few landmines in fields and old chaps kneeling in front of tractors. IIRC there was also a TV report on token efforts by a local governor to clear out fields, though not the one's he owned just beside the site chosen!

Since poppy farming is run in AFG in a manner that ties the farmer by debt, season by season, any eradication programme that does not involve an alternative livelyhood programme is destined to be very dangerous. It will in effect, be a poverty/destitution multiplier - a very nice AQ/Talibunnies recruiting sgt.

most alternative livelyhood programmes are going to be a dfid/NGO led affair as the amount of money that would need to be poured in to local economies wouldn't pass unregulated through hands that seek a good profit margin.

The senlis proposals for licensing and harvesting of opium production are the best yet. Tanzania and India don't produce enough opium base for world wide medical morphine demands. Making the farmers part of an legal international industry will protect against debt slavery and encourage the local population to keep the region calm.

The idea of european governments providing good quality heroin to registered addicts at rock bottom prices to bankrupt cartels is a little bit extreme though!
 
#12
smallbrownprivates said:
The idea of european governments providing good quality heroin to registered addicts at rock bottom prices to bankrupt cartels is a little bit extreme though!
True. but it would work very well and very quickly. And it's mainly the illegality of the drug that causes the problem, stealing to score etc. If it was 50p a pop from Boots there'd be almost no problem associated with heroin use.
 
#14
Steamywindow said:
smallbrownprivates said:
The idea of european governments providing good quality heroin to registered addicts at rock bottom prices to bankrupt cartels is a little bit extreme though!
True. but it would work very well and very quickly. And it's mainly the illegality of the drug that causes the problem, stealing to score etc. If it was 50p a pop from Boots there'd be almost no problem associated with heroin use.
Very true. Personally I'd give it out free as it stops addicts nicking stuff to sell to get money to give to very unpleasant criminals. I mean, who loses out ?
 
#15
Interesting thread Merkator and apologies in advance for being a NeoConservative!!! I've only come out recently...


1. Merkator - Are you sure this deplyment makes us exceed defence planning assumptions? I'm not sure you are correct to say "Iraq, as is, lies between 'medium' and 'large' in MoD lexicon, Afghanistan is 'medium', and the Balkans 'small'". I think Iraq is only just slightly above medium and the proprosed Afghan job is small.

Here are some defintions from p15 of the Defence White Paper (Delivering Security in a Changing World) together with forces in Iraq from MOD Telic Page (I still don't understand the maths for the rotation/force generation figures in the white paper but anyway).

Large = 16 , 9 , 35, 6.666, 18.
Medium = 3 , 2 , 5, 1.5, 3.
Small = 0 , .25 , 1, 1, 2.
(armoured sqn/recce sqn/arty batteries/eng regiments/infantry battalions)

Iraq = 2, 2, 3, 1, 4.5.

Surely Iraq is only just above medium? We don't know much about Afghanistan but there'll be roughly 2 infantry battalions, 1 artillery battery making it small? Also there is a possiblity an Iraq drawdown will start to occur in 2006.

Looking at the number of units being deployed doesn't demonstrate overstretch. I suspect personnel are being shifted around units for tours though - i.e. unit comes back from tour, some members are intentionally posted to another understrength unit preparing to deploy. What would be interesting is to see the number of personnel who have had their Individual Harmony Guideline (IHG) or Individual Recuperation Level (IRL) breached. Should be easily collatable too since a breach has to be ok-ed by a 1-star. So we may well be overstretched but that's not proven by looking at defence planning assumptions.


2.I don't thinking buying up the opium is such a good strategy - it addresses symptoms not causes. Sure if we buy it then there'll be less heroin exported in the short term. However what makes you think the supply side is fixed? Won't more farmers start producing it as a cash crop and us having to buy even more of the stuff! Also, buying might be feasible for a year or two but we can't afford to buy it for an eternity. Much better to encourage the farmers to switch to other crops. To do that we need carrot + stick. Example of carrot = improved roads etc so they can get crop to market. Stick = 3 PARA plus stronger central government enforcing laws. Not much will change in 1 or 2 years but we can put Afghanistan on the right path...


3. It doesn't sound like many forces even if they are very mobile... But I presume some Afghan forces are coming too?


4. Were the Taliban really opposed to heroin production? I thought production dipped merely becasue they were attempting to bring it under their control?


Having said all that it does look like a very tricky mission with many commentators talking of heavy casualties. Hope it works out ok...

Tricam
 
#16
tricam said:
Interesting thread Merkator and apologies in advance for being a NeoConservative!!! I've only come out recently...
:) I'm a 'trad-con' myself, or, as I prefer to call it, a hard-bitten realist! :wink:

tricam said:
1. Merkator - Are you sure this deplyment makes us exceed defence planning assumptions? I'm not sure you are correct to say "Iraq, as is, lies between 'medium' and 'large' in MoD lexicon, Afghanistan is 'medium', and the Balkans 'small'". I think Iraq is only just slightly above medium and the proprosed Afghan job is small.
The MoD's force projection matrix that you use is difficult to comprehend for the best of us. Thus, I'll point you to something a little easier to understand and found buried in a footnote on page 7 of CM6041 here: http://www.mod.uk/linked_files/publications/whitepaper2003/volume1.pdf
CM6041 said:
An example of a Small Scale operation is the UK’s deployment to Macedonia in 2001; Afghanistan 2001 was at Medium Scale; and Operation TELIC, Large Scale.
I see it simply as this: BG = small, Bde = medium and Div = large.

Task Force Helmand may not equal a 'square brigade' either in numbers (especially in numbers of infanteers), or military might, but it roughly equal to Op Fingal - the example used by the MoD.

Regarding current Telic levels, I suggest this lays between medium and large, since, it takes a complete mech or armd bde PLUS another 2-3 btns to maintain force levels. Moreover, UK forces contribute the greater part of the div level HQ. All told, the force levels at about 8,000 are nigh on 2 brigade strength.

tricam said:
Looking at the number of units being deployed doesn't demonstrate overstretch. I suspect personnel are being shifted around units for tours though - i.e. unit comes back from tour, some members are intentionally posted to another understrength unit preparing to deploy. What would be interesting is to see the number of personnel who have had their Individual Harmony Guideline (IHG) or Individual Recuperation Level (IRL) breached. Should be easily collatable too since a breach has to be ok-ed by a 1-star. So we may well be overstretched but that's not proven by looking at defence planning assumptions.
I concur. Overstretch cannot be measured simply by looking at the deployment of a btn HQ or sqn HQ - which is precisely what the politicans look for when measuring time between operations. It clearly misses the 'individual' backfilling by troops across battalions.

tricam said:
2.I don't thinking buying up the opium is such a good strategy - it addresses symptoms not causes. Sure if we buy it then there'll be less heroin exported in the short term. However what makes you think the supply side is fixed? Won't more farmers start producing it as a cash crop and us having to buy even more of the stuff! Also, buying might be feasible for a year or two but we can't afford to buy it for an eternity. Much better to encourage the farmers to switch to other crops. To do that we need carrot + stick. Example of carrot = improved roads etc so they can get crop to market. Stick = 3 PARA plus stronger central government enforcing laws. Not much will change in 1 or 2 years but we can put Afghanistan on the right path....
Personally, I don't want to go down a 'what to do with the narcotics problem' discussion. My only point was, that this appears to be one of the drivers behind our participation in this operation. I driver which may sound good to eager journalists from the red-tops, but not a mission I'd like the armed forces to be dragged into.

tricam said:
3. It doesn't sound like many forces even if they are very mobile... But I presume some Afghan forces are coming too?
The 'stage 3 plan' proposed and accepted by NATO in Brussels for ISAF must surely be wobbling, with the US having to retain control of 3 provinces it thought it had off-loaded. It would appear that Task Force Helmand may well also be responsible for Nimroz Province, something that the MoD remains mute about. The latest Telegraph interview with 'our-man-in Helmand' (see links above) suggest that no Afghan forces are there at present. Part of the PRT task is to create one.

tricam said:
4. Were the Taliban really opposed to heroin production? I thought production dipped merely becasue they were attempting to bring it under their control?
I'm of much the same opinion. they were both for and against it, depending on when you asked, and how carefully you sought additional clarification and evidence.

tricam said:
Having said all that it does look like a very tricky mission with many commentators talking of heavy casualties. Hope it works out ok...
I'm a little more optimistic than some of the scaremongering going on. The Times, for example, is printing anonymous quotes that 3 PARA could suffer a couple of dozen deaths during their 6-month tour - a number which I consider fanciful.

My greatest concern is that we, the military and/or the general public, are being duped into another 'multi-national NATO' operation, that is manifestly 'bi-national' as it currently stands - with all our so called NATO allies sticking up two fingers to any requests for help. We can spend all day discussing the Dutch 'wobble', but at least they have the courtesy to discuss it, rather than turn us down flat as the majority of our 'close' allies have done.

One begins to wonder, again, when the majority say 'NO', whether the 'YES' crowd really are following the 'right' path.... Or, to put it another way, following my hard-bitten realist roots, is this really in our national interest?
 
#17
tricam said:
2.I don't thinking buying up the opium is such a good strategy - it addresses symptoms not causes. Sure if we buy it then there'll be less heroin exported in the short term. However what makes you think the supply side is fixed? Won't more farmers start producing it as a cash crop and us having to buy even more of the stuff! Also, buying might be feasible for a year or two but we can't afford to buy it for an eternity.
But the price we would pay 'at source' would be a tiny fraction of the street price, and I would wager £1bn would go a very long way to keeping the developing world supplied with pain killers ( http://www.senliscouncil.net/ )

msr
 
#18
Related, but slightly off thread -

Tricam, what is the well-dressed neocon-about-town's position on legalisation of hard drugs nowadays?
 
#19
Steamywindow - To be honest I'm not even sure if I'm a neocon! I tend to swing a lot... perhaps I'm some sort of political hermaphrodite... Anyways, that's enough innuendo for now...


msr said:
tricam said:
2.I don't thinking buying up the opium is such a good strategy - it addresses symptoms not causes. Sure if we buy it then there'll be less heroin exported in the short term. However what makes you think the supply side is fixed? Won't more farmers start producing it as a cash crop and us having to buy even more of the stuff! Also, buying might be feasible for a year or two but we can't afford to buy it for an eternity.
But the price we would pay 'at source' would be a tiny fraction of the street price, and I would wager £1bn would go a very long way to keeping the developing world supplied with pain killers ( http://www.senliscouncil.net/ )

msr
Aye - I've heard of the Senlis proprosal, its been mentioned a few times in the The Economist. The arguments against the Senlis idea is that:
1. The global shortage of medicines is not due to a poppy shortage but is because of a factory capacity shortage. So it won't supply the developed world with medicines - it may well kill the illicit heroin trade but I'll come back to this point in a minute.
2. Licensed poppy growing requires extremely strong regulation as the illicit drug price is still higher than the pharmaceutical price.
3. Sometimes the counter poppy campaign involves issueing a fatwa against all poppy growing. Licensing poppy growing in some cases sends a confusing message.
I've no real opinion on this and I don't know who is right and whose wrong - but hopefully some poor SO3 in the ARRC has read all the Senlis documentation and knows the answer.

However I still don't see how Senlis can solve the problem. At best it could be part of a temporary solution. Supposing we use that 1bn to outbid the gangsters and buy all the heroin. The 1bn will only last so many years and at the end of that we are still back to square one - the afghans are supplying 90% of UK heroin. Using the 1bn to encourage strong government solves the problem once and for all. I could also argue if you spend 1bn on heroin then the Afghans will repsond to that increase in demand and grow even more poppy - making the problem even bigger. Also, spending that 1bn on strong government doesn't just stop heroin production, it should also deny Afghanistan as a safe haven for terrorists etc etc.

Incidently, I presume ISAF won't simply slash and burn poppy fields - I'd imagine there will be some sort of once-off compensation package for farmers...

Tricam.
 
#20
As I said, it's not my subject. But a couple of questions that I can't find a reasonable answer to:

1. If you buy up poppy production, who do you buy it from, the farmer or the trafficker? Buying from the farmer will be cheaper, but leave a hell of a lot of nasty, rich and powerful criminals/warlords baying for blood. Would it be wiser to cut them in on the deal too?

2. If you buy up poppy production, how much do you buy, just enough to supply the UK market or everything? Is one of the aims of this exercise to reduce drug related crime in the UK by making heroin freely available? If you buy everything and burn it, UK druggies will move into other drugs, not so? If you buy up everything for onward supply, are we going to offer cheap heroin to ALL of the EU? If you buy up enough to supply the UK market only, it'll keep the purchase costs down, but encourage the traffickers and dealers to up their prices in other parts of Europe to offset their loss of earnings in the UK.

3. If our aim is to put our armed forces directly into the anti-narcotics business, what about employing a little firmer anti-narcotics operations in the main European transhipment point: Kosovo?

Conclusions:
a) slashing & burning the crop has failed,
b) conversion to alternative crops has failed,
c) buying up the crop is fraught with problems and provides no satisfactory answers.
 

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