Published on Afpak Channel. By Stephen Grey, June 15, 2010
U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Gen. Richard Mills takes over command of Helmand – Afghanistan’s most violent province — from the British this week, Britain’s Conservative-led government of David Cameron is busy in London wrestling with the question: just what has been going wrong?
The shake-up of NATO command structures in Afghanistan — which spins off a new divisional headquarters, Regional Command South West — from the British-led Regional Command South in Kandahar, now places almost all of Britain’s combat troops in Afghanistan rather uneasily under the leadership of an American.
With a force now of nearly 10,000, the Brits have been fighting in Helmand since the summer of 2006 and lost more than 290 troops. While it is perilous to consider the province’s woes in isolation from the entire country’s downward spiral, there is a need to ask why things have gone particularly badly in Helmand.
For the British, it is a matter of national reputation. Not is only is there a small matter of the British Empire’s three previous Afghan wars thought (wrongly, as it happens) to have been disastrous failures. There is also the widespread view, shared by a majority of the British Army itself, that the U.K. tarnished its reputation for counterinsurgency operations by getting wrong its campaign in Basra, Iraq, and requiring an embarrassing bail-out by the Americans in Operation Charge of the Knights in 2008.
Is Helmand another case of waiting for the Yanks to come?