Afghan War Could Last ‘For Decades’:

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

We underestimated the Taliban, says Minister

By Kirsty Walker

The Taliban were underestimated by the nations fighting them in Afghanistan, the Defense Minister admitted yesterday.

Bill Rammell said the ‘challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated’.

His comments came after Britain’s most senior diplomat warned UK troops could be stuck fighting in Afghanistan for ‘decades’.

Sir Nigel Sheinwald, the ambassador to Washington, warned Britain faced a ‘long-term commitment’ in the country.

Sir Nigel’s bleak assessment came after the bloodiest month of fighting, during which 22 British troops were killed.

His warning that the campaign could drag on for ‘decades’ is the longest timetable ever given by a senior British figure.

In an interview with The Boston Globe, Sir Nigel said: ‘We’re going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan’s future. This is not just one year.

‘This is going to be for decades. We’re going to help them get to a state which can they can ward off the return of the Taliban and Al Qaeda.’

Sir Nigel’s comments came amid mounting speculation that Britain is going to be asked to send an extra 2,000 troops. U.S. General Stanley

McChrystal, who is conducting a review mission there, is reported to want the Afghan army and police increased from 150,000 to around 400,000  -  which would require an extra 12,000 military trainers.

But a hard-hitting report by MPs yesterday warned that troops in Afghanistan are suffering from ‘mission creep’.

The Foreign Affairs Select Committee said the armed forces had been burdened with an ever-growing list of responsibilities since 2001.

It warned soldiers should be concentrating on protecting security rather than tackling drugs or bolstering human rights and state-building.

The MPs said bad planning by the Government and a lack of direction meant the mission – which has cost 191 British lives – has been undermined.

Mr Rammell dismissed the criticism. The Defense Minister said: ‘We are focused on security and I think, with respect, the Foreign Affairs Committee is a bit behind the game.’

However, he added: ‘I will acknowledge that the scale of the challenge from insurgents in Helmand province is greater than we anticipated. We are responding to that.’

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