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What will Britain do when Obama asks for more troops in Afghanistan?

The UK may send an additional 2,000 troops to Afghanistan if President-elect Obama makes a request to allies, according to the BBC:
The BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins said British officials had told him there would be negotiations with the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, "and more than one has told me to expect agreement for between 1,500 and 2,000 extra British troops."
The Defense Ministry has made no official commitment, but there is little doubt Britain will feel pressure to contribute more, particularly considering the US will be increasingly focused on Afghanistan under the Obama administration, to include raising troop levels itself.

However, sending more troops will be no easy decision for Britain's politicians; public opposition to maintaining British troops in Afghanistan is strong according to a recent survey reported by the BBC:
ICM asked a random sample of 1,013 adults whether or not Britain should withdraw its armed forces from Afghanistan within the next 12 months.

More than two-thirds (68%) of those questioned said the UK should pull its soldiers out during the next year. Less than a quarter (24%) said they believed the troops should remain.
I am curious if the majority of Brits and others across Europe who supported Obama were aware of his intention to intensify Western efforts in Afghanistan, and what that might mean for them? It will be interesting to see how the European public responds when these requests inevitably begin to arrive from the iconic new American president.

See also from Atlantic Review:
* Is Europe "Ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders"?


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Pat Patterson on :

I actually think that, given the state of the equipment the British Army uses in Iraq, that they should refuse this request. Sacrificing the lives of its soldiers for a political point makes absolutely no sense unless with this increase in troop strength the British simply reequip itself with American sourced armour. Something like over 60% of British casualties of combat are the result the poor protection offered by its "Snatch" Land Rovers and the Jackal combat vehicle. While American casualties from IEDs have fallen drastically as the newer MRAPs and the constant modifications of the HUMMVEEs has fallen dramatically. Since there is no liklihood of the British adopting different combat platforms it seems cruel to demand more troops. And since for all intents and purposes Iraq is no longer the main combat theatre then more US troops will be available for service in Afghanistan. And instead of the British or the Germans riding over the hill to save the Americans and Canadians it will in all actuality be simply a brigade of the USMC taking a huge detour before the get home to Oceanside CA.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

I agree with Pat. Sending more British troops to Afghanistan is irresponsible, unpatriotic or even criminal, in my opinion, when considering the fatalities mentioned by Pat or those in this Times article from November 1, 2008: [i]The most senior reservist SAS officer in Afghanistan has resigned over the death of three of his colleagues and a female Intelligence Corps soldier who were blown up while travelling in a lightly armoured Snatch Land Rover. Major Sebastian Morley, who commanded 23 SAS, one of two Special Air Service reserve units, is understood to have been disgusted by the death of his comrades who died when their vehicle drove over a landmine in Helmand province on June 17. He is said to have included highly critical comments about equipment in Afghanistan in his resignation letter.[/i] [url][/url]

Don S on :

I beg leave to disagree, Joerg. The irresponsible thing is to not provide proper equipment to your troops, no matter what nationality. Using that as an excuse for not deploying troops to dangerous areas is perhaps understandable but in the end puts the responsibility off onto allies who ARE willing to do the right thing by their troops and apply the lessons of the war, however belatedly. But we really aren't discussing the Brits here, are we? The Brits hve been putting in their share, more than their share, really, and even their worst critics have to acknowledge that. No, we are not in truth talking about the Brits.

Pat Patterson on :

I agree with Don S. as my point was that sending in British troops when the are under equippped and then refuse, due to pressure for rationalization of equipment by the EU, is worse than useless it is criminal. Australia and Canada use compatible equipment as the US and have lower casualty rates then the British. Which raises the question of what good is an alliance when nothing is compatible and no one can speak to each other via radio in spite of sharing a common language? The British Army found, without the learning curve of the Reforger Exercises, that they could speak to the French and Germans but not an US AWACS circling overhead and thus suffered an inordinate number of friendly fire casualties. I think as of last year Tonga has suffered more casualties on a per capita basis then anybody except the US. Mainly because they excelled in small unit tactics but had a nasty and fatal habit of not waiting for air support when requested. While some NATO countries that have benefitted the most from NATO have sent token troops and then either created strict ROEs and often simply put them in barracks so they can slowly lose morale and efficiency due to the lack of confidence the politicians have placed in their citizens and soldiers. But it looks good for the politicians when inaction is rewarded and they can appear on the disembarkation point to congratulate the returning heroes. And the desire for producing weapons that can only be refit and replaced by certain favored companies within their own borders. The Romans tried to blend in foreign auxillaries into its battle formations and found that unless there were skirmishers armed with gladii between the auxillaries and safety behind the phalanx the lightly armed and usually poorly trained auxillaries ran. So as such the foreign levies were used as scouts, skirmishers, foragers, guards of the equipment train and often decoys. They simply were not expected to be used in phalanx or even as reinforcements to the phalanx.

Marie Claude on :

"But we really aren't discussing the Brits here, are we? The Brits hve been putting in their share, more than their share, really, and even their worst critics have to acknowledge that. No, we are not in truth talking about the Brits." Don, because they are making all what is pleasing the conservative Americans OK, though seems that,now, they are turning more EU oriented

Joe Noory on :

This must be what the Europeans meant in 2002 when they were united in begging America not to "go it alone" in Afghanistan.

Marie Claude on :

did they, can't remember

John in Michigan, USA on :

I agree with Pat about the British troops, but not for the reasons he gives. During the peak of the Iraq insurgency, insurgents were able to deploy IEDs with more than enough fire-power to neutralize our best MRAP. The people inside would survive, they might even walk away, but whatever mission they were on would have to be scrubbed, a precious Quick Reaction united deployed to secure the scene for evac and investigation, and entire neighborhoods disrupted, with little benefit. MRAP, armored Humvee's and related toys may have helped in Iraq, particularly with troop morale. They also were useful for certain high-value missions or decoy missions. These vehicles may also have encouraged the insurgents to target Iraqis instead of US troops. But what really turned the tide was counter-insurgency. Once we got most of the Iraqis on our side, we started getting the intel to prevent or defuse bombs, rather than discovering them the hard way. Better still, the bomb-makers found it much harder to find the safe harbor they needed. So, no more British troops unless there can be ironclad assurances that the ISAF can implement effective counter-insurgency tactics under a unified command with few national caveats. On a slightly different topic -- if I recall, a major non-combatant role for Germany and others was to train the Afghan Army. It seems today that that training wasn't very effective. How about some accountability? Well I can dream...

Kevin Sampson on :

The situations in central and southern Iraq are not comparable. In and around Baghdad the primary threat was al Qaeda in Iraq and its local affiliates. These were often made up of predominately foreign fighters who thought nothing of killing 10, 20, or 50 locals to get one American. Of course, this eventually alienated the locals who either killed them themselves or ratted them out to us to do it for them. In and around Basra, however, the primary threat is from Shia militias such as the Mahdi Army, all of whom are Iranian proxies. Neither the militias nor their Iranian backers have displayed the stupidity of al Qaeda and have taken care to minimize casualties among the locals, who are fellow Shia. As a result, the militias in the south still have broad support among the people. So don’t expect to see the sort of counter-insurgency successes that have reversed the course of the war in the north.

John in Michigan, USA on :

Violence is down in all areas of Iraq, not just the Sunni areas. Sadr is exiled in Iran in disgrace. There are a ton of articles that describe how the Shiite Mahdi Army alienated the Shiite population, even the NY Times noticed: "[url=]A Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Wane[/url]" It is true the Iraqi army is mostly responsible for re-taking control of the South (Basra) and also Sadr City (the Mahdi Army-dominated part of Baghdad). But it was the same sort of counter-insurgency tactics that gave the Shiite government the credibility and security to move against rogue Shiite elements like the Mahdi army. Without the relative security provided by the Surge in central Iraq, the Iraqi Army would have been stretched too thin to make progress in the South. Ironically, the remaining Shiite factions, and indeed the government of Iraq itself, are sympathetic to Iran, and probably, thoroughly infiltrated by Iranian agents. The important difference is, these Shiite groups are willing to work with Americans, Sunnis, Kurds on practical matters and are not trying to make Iraq ungovernable.

Pat Patterson on :

The problem in the British area seemed always to be, as described a popular militia, but also that once the ground action was accomplished the British tactics seemed to simply to stay inside garrison posititions and not even do much patrolling except in a few cases where good information seemed to have come. Almost completely the opposite of the way the British Army fought in Afghanistan with small quick reaction forces following up aggressive patrolling. The problem remain, until Patreus' convinced the Army with the Marines already believers to hold and occupy areas much like the US had done successfully in Vietnam before 1972.

Joerg - Atlantic Review on :

"there is little doubt Britain will feel pressure to contribute more" What? Britain already has more than 8,000 troops in Afghanistan. Britain has a population of 58 million. I guess, the US has a population of 300 million and some 40,000 troops in Afghanistan. So, the British commitment is already as big as the American one considering the different population sizes.

John in Michigan, USA on :

I know what you mean, Joerg, the British are already contributing more troops in proportion to their size, and before the election seemed to be moving away from this position. The source is "unidentified ministers"...I suppose shadow ministers count as ministers, so this could be a leak from the Conservatives (Cameron, not Bush) or Greens? Scotts? to embarrass Brown? Many there really is an Anglo-Saxon conspiracy to ruin the EU and it is time for the UK to pay the bill? Kyle any thoughts?

Kyle on :

I agree the Brits are contributing well both quantitatively and qualitatively. However, I can imagine an Obama administration, increasing its own presence and efforts on Afghanistan increasingly as it shifts focus from Iraq, may ask all Allies including Britain to give even more. And I can imagine Britain following through, especially if it is withdrawing from Iraq as well. Joe is probably right though, this article is about Britain, but considering their already disproportionate contributions, they are not the nation that a new US administration should use any leverage it may (or may not) have on. I am not sure about any conspiracies to destroy the EU. However, I do wish we had a better idea of what this journalist's sources are... "more than one" British official doesn't really tell us much about the veracity or poignancy of this source.

Kyle on :

Decent article in Time Magazine titled "Europe's Obama Problem: Afghanistan". Excerpt: "Indeed, at the level of pure headcount, Europe has few extra soldiers to send. European nations already provide around half of the 50,000-strong ISAF force in Afghanistan, with the British, French, Germans and Dutch making the principle contributions. On top of that, this week the E.U. launched its first naval operation: a mission to fight piracy and armed robbery off the coast of Somalia. Since the beginning of 2007, the E.U. has had 15 'battlegroups', each with at least 1,500 soldiers, dealing with local crises around the globe. "They are not just chicken, they are not just cheap. They have real resource problems," says one high level NATO diplomat of European governments. ",8599,1859186,00.html

Don S on :

I don't doubt there is a resource problem, Kyle. The thing is to step back and ask why Europe seems to be exhausted after deploying 25,000 (or whatever the total is) troops? Isn't it? The next question is what is to be done about it?

John in Michigan, USA on :

It occurs to me, maybe the willingness of unnamed sources to suggest that the UK might contribute more troops, is related to the [url=]rumors of an increased terrorist threat[/url] that Marie-Claude linked to.

Claire on :

Interesting article. Thanks for sharing this. Like to read more on this.

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