December 27, 2010

WINNING THE SIDESHOW:

War in Afghanistan: A 'breeze of change' blows in helmand: As British troops spend their 10th Christmas in Afghanistan, Thomas Harding reports on growing signs of success in the fight against the insurgency. (Thomas Harding, 12/256/10, The Telegraph)

[W]hile no one is clamouring to say it – there have been too many false dawns – there is a feeling in the air that, as yet another year of the campaign comes to a close, a corner has been turned.

Despite 2010 being the worst year for Nato fatalities, with 705 dead, the casualty rate in the last six months has dropped – and this with the "surge" of an extra 30,000 American troops. In the British sector of central Helmand, the number of deaths since July has fallen to 38, compared with 76 in the same period last year. Commanders are understandably reticent about trumpeting success in Helmand but they are getting close enough to whisper phrases such as "irreversible gains" and "unstoppable momentum".

They also mention "virtuous circles", one of which will become apparent in early spring with the next poppy harvest. If it is like last year's low yield – due in part to the farmers' fear of eradication, which led them to harvest too early – then there will be less money for the insurgents. That means fewer guns, bombs and hired foot-soldiers, which in turn means a less cowed population who will be more inclined to believe Nato's promises of security.

Helmand now has 30,000 troops where there were just 3,000 in 2006. This means that ground being taken is being held. A single platoon can now guard a village of 800; soldiers and villagers will get to know each other's faces and names, bonds are built and the locals point out where bombs have been hidden or inform when outsiders appear.

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Posted by Orrin Judd at December 27, 2010 5:00 AM
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