Afghanistan conflict could last 40 years, says new head of British Army
General Sir David Richards, the new head of the British Army believes the West's mission to stabilise Afghanistan might take as long as 40 years.
By James Kirkup, Political Correspondent Telegraph
Published: 8:00AM BST 08 Aug 2009
General Sir David Richards' prediction came as three more British soldiers, part of an elite Special Forces unit, were killed by an improvised explosive device in southern Afghanistan.
The three men, members of the Special Forces Support Group, died when the vehicle they were travelling in was struck by an explosion near Lashkar Gah in Helmand province. A fourth member of the unit survived the attack but was last night in critical condition.
The SFSG was formed in 2006. Built around 1 Battalion, the Parachute Regiment, its members also include Royal Marines and men from the RAF Regiment. It is part of an integrated UK Special Forces Group that also includes the SAS, the SBS and the Special Reconnaissance Regiment, all of whom are active in Afghanistan alongside more than 9,000 regular British troops.
A former commander of British troops in Afghanistan, Sir David will take over as Chief of the General Staff at the end of the month, replacing the outspoken General Sir Richard Dannatt, who has repeatedly questioned the Government's approach to the Afghan mission.
In a magazine interview to be published today, Sir David described the scale of the task facing Western governments trying to establish a stable Afghan regime able to ensure the country is not a base for extremists.
Sir David said: "It will take time. This is nation building - not the starry-eyed type, but nation-building nonetheless. It is not just reconstruction: jobs and simple governance that works are key, and there has to be a strong reconciliation element to the latter.
He added: "The Army's role might evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years. There is absolutely no chance of NATO pulling out."
That prediction echoes those made by other senior figures including Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the former British ambassador in Kabul, and will fuel fears that the West could become mired in decades of conflict in Afghanistan.
A total of 195 British service personnel have now been killed in Afghanistan in 2001, and the mission there has become a growing political problem for Gordon Brown, the Prime Minister.
Sir Richard has publicly questioned the Government's commitment to defence, and Gordon Brown has faced intense questions about whether forces on the frontline have been provided with adequate vehicles.
Those questions may grow with the disclosure that the three SFSG soldiers were killed while travelling in a Jackal vehicle, which has less armour than some other vehicles used in Afghanistan.
MoD sources insisted that the Jackal's off-road capability made it the appropriate vehicle for the SFSG's work.
However, The Daily Telegraph revealed June that some British commanders believe the Taliban are deliberately targeting the vehicles with bomb attacks because of a high success rate.
Fourteen British soldiers have now been killed while travelling in Jackals.
The MoD confirmed that the men were travelling in a Type 1 Jackal vehicle, which is only lightly armoured. Some British soldiers using Jackals are known to have tried to improve their protection by taping Kevlar pads to the vehicles. After field commanders requested a series of modifications to the Jackal, the MoD in April ordered 110 new Type 2 Jackals. The updated Jackal will have an "enhanced armour configuration".
An MoD spokesman said the new better-protected Jackals will be deployed to Afghanistan "imminently" but could not give a date.
There are more than 9,000 British troops in Afghanistan, and the figure is likely to rise again despite Mr Brown's resistance.
Generals including Sir David have been arguing the greater numbers would allow Western forces to hold more ground safely. Stanley McChrystal, the US general overseeing Afghanistan, is expected to make a formal request for more British troops within weeks.
Anders Fogh Rasmussen, the new head of NATO, yesterday made a public call for more troops in southern Afghanistan where British forces are based. "Honestly speaking, I think we need more troops," he said.
Afghans vote in a presidential election later this month, with President Hamid Karzai expected to be re-elected.
Mr Karzai's Government has Western backing, but a Daily Telegraph investigation today reveals that privately there are growing concerns about his ability and willingness to tackle corruption and drug trafficking in the country.
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