Gordon Brown’s Afghanistan and Pakistan statement was virtually identical to the joint statement he gave with Battlin’ Bob in August. Once again, the government are pinning their hopes on a tactic called “Afghanisation” – by which they mean conducting operations alongside Afghan forces and police, and the steady extension of Kabul’s authority into the localities. I’ve debated this before, but I doubt that an Afghan police force that is drug tested because its officers consume opium prodigiously can be relied upon to even hand out parking tickets; and, more importantly, Nato’s strategy rests on the contestable assumption that ordinary Afghans believe that Afghanistan exists as a political entity and that they want a stake in it.
Whilst Britain remains committed, it is clear that more boots are required on the ground. The announcement that 500 more troops will be deployed, subject to conditions, is welcome but does it go far enough? Sir Jock Stirrup is adamant that this increase fulfils the exact recommendations of military advice. That contradicts General Dannatt’s claim that 2,000 more troops were required (actually a further 500, once all the other recent rises are accounted for). So what to make of this difference of opinion? General Dannatt’s adoption of the Conservative party and the promise of a ministerial brief have been met with nothing short of disgust among senior officers: a source told me that General Richards admits privately to feeling “betrayed” by his predecessor. But the army would not limit the increased deployment on the basis of personal differences between senior officers. I suspect that commanders would like 5,000 more troops in Helmand, but it seems that 500 is all the MoD can afford to equip.