Inadequate force to space ratio in Afghanistan

Washington Post:

...

Since 2006, Garmsir and other parts of Helmand province have changed hands between the British and Taliban forces at least three times, largely because there have been too few British ground troops to hold captured territory. Despite Defense Minister John Reid's early hope that 3,000 British forces could pacify Helmand without "firing a shot," the British have lost 89 troops to fighting in the province, where violence surged 60 percent last year, testing NATO's ability to stabilize Afghanistan's ethnic Pashtun heartland.

President Bush will attend a NATO summit this week where he hopes allies will pledge additional combat troops for Afghanistan. In Helmand, even an expanded British-led force of about 7,000 must now concentrate its efforts on the north, while the company in Garmsir controls a small segment of the southern front.

"You can't hold it against them for wanting to repel the invaders," said Warrant Officer 2 Jason Mortimer, 37, manning a sandbag-lined bunker in the ruins of an old British fort here that comes under daily attack. Afghan fighters, he noted, sent the British "packing with a bloody nose" in three wars, starting in 1839.

Today, many British forces here sleep in dirt-floored and mice-infested outposts where they eat boiled rations as well as eggs, chicken and livestock they butcher. The troops are fighting hard but are hindered by insufficient helicopters, intelligence and surveillance equipment, and armored vehicles, officers say.

"Most British soldiers would say we're absolutely knackered out after this and Iraq," said Maj. Mark Milford, commander of Bravo Company, the main British force in Garmsir, which is far outnumbered by the Taliban.

Reinforcements are on the way. Beginning next month, Helmand will be a main destination for thousands of U.S. Marines dispatched to bolster the NATO effort in southern Afghanistan. But the Pentagon has stressed that the seven-month Marine deployment is an "extraordinary one-time" commitment, and British troops say it will not suffice to end the fighting in Helmand, where the population remains wary, local security is fledgling and the Taliban replaces its losses with recruits who pass freely over the Pakistani border about 75 miles to the south.

The shortage of ground troops has led to reliance on airstrikes and artillery barrages, complicating the goal of winning over civilians. Mortimer, who has been deployed to Iraq and Kosovo twice since 2000, sees political dialogue with the Taliban as the only way forward.

"This campaign will drag on and on until we sit down at a table with the Taliban," he said. Otherwise, "we'll drop 1,000-pound bombs and make martyrs of a generation of men in a part of the world that needs its healthy young men."

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He is wrong about negotiations with the Taliban. If they were amenable to negotiations we never would have had a war in Afghanistan to begin with. Killing the Taliban is also not creating new converts to their cause. They are already having to draw on untrained Pakistani kids and a few jihadis from Arab countries. The real problem is the small foot print policies of the NATO countries which is making the war last longer and be more costly for both sides.

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