02 October, 2006

What the Butler saw: a critical shortage of helicopters.

Brigadier Ed Butler, commander of the British task force in Afghanistan, is standing down at the end of the week, but he is not going quietly. The Brigadier has been telling the Daily Telegraph about the severe problems facing our troops in Helmand.

British forces in southern Afghanistan came within hours of retreating from a key base because they suffered a critical shortage of helicopters, the task force commander has disclosed.
Yesterday, Crumbling Spires reported that Brigadier Butler had agreed a truce with the Talbian at Musa Qala. Now, Butler has told the Telegraph that he came within 36 hours of abandoning the village to the Taliban, a withdrawal prevented only by the village elders negotiating a ceasefire. Butler's problem was not that the British troops were being outfought, but the lack of helicopters.
We were not going to be beaten by the Taliban in Musa Qala... but the threat to helicopters from very professional Taliban fighters and particularly mortar crews was becoming unacceptable. We couldn't guarantee that we weren't going to lose helicopters.
The British army has only six Chinooks in the entire theatre (and not all of them are equipped with a winch for evacuation missions); Butler felt he just could not afford to lose even one of them on either supply or casualty evacuation missions. The Brigadier said that he warned his superiors last month of the danger to the Chinooks. (I suspect he also had a quiet word with Max Hastings.) Indeed, in early September, knowledgeable military figures were publicly complaining the army was being asked to do the job in Afghanistan with inadequate equipment. Nothing was done. The politicians were totally indifferent to the possible casualties, as they are now, except for any political damage they might incur.

Ministers were prepared to lie, rather than admit they were sending soldiers into battle.
The statistics of the Paras tour tell their own story of low level, often close quarter, infantry fighting: 443,000 rounds fired, 3,500 mortar shells launched and 400 hand grenades thrown.
Such figures sit in stark contrast to the aid and development mission originally outlined by the Government, which gave assurances that "offensive operations" would not be a feature of Operation Herrick.
John Reid, who was then Defence Secretary, had expressed the hope at the start of the year that British troops might leave Afghanistan after three years "without firing a shot".
Ministers were prepared to lie rather than admit they had sent inadequately equipped soldiers into battle.
Our forces are poorly equipped, in particular there is a crippling shortage of helicopters - we even learnt yesterday that some troops have had to forage for food. Yet ministers remain sanguine. All the while, journalists are kept well away from the front line in a cyncial attempt to conceal the true nature of this conflict from the public.
Ministers were prepared lie rather than spend money on helicopters to protect troops in action. Our servicemen deserve better. Let this be the government's political epitaph.
A critical shortage of helicopters

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