In today's Independent newspaper in England, I read that British generals, faced with increasing the troop deployments in Afghanistan, are calling for a speedier draw down of their troops in Iraq. Afghanistan, you see, is an increasingly fierce battle and the British are being called upon to take a greater role there. From the article:
This could get very interesting and very dangerous for all sides. If the British reduce more troops in Iraq and the violence increases there and continues in Afghanistan, it's possible that there will be requests that the U.S. replace those numbers or not draw down as many troops. How will the U.S. leaders respond to that? Will they just say that it's now an Iraqi security problem and continue their plans? Will the British choose to stay or will they decide that the most important mission is the one in Afghanistan? Whatever happens, the sad truth is that soldiers are being played as pawns in this game and they are the ones who will face the deadly consequences, if it comes to that.
Military chiefs are urging a reduction in the 8,500-strong British force in Iraq as they struggle to find troops for a new and potentially far more dangerous mission in Afghanistan.
The magnitude of the task awaiting the 3,300 troops due to arrive in Afghanistan's Helmand province was emphasised yesterday by the heaviest fighting the country has seen in several months.
American and Canadian forces went to the aid of Afghan troops and police who were engaged in a two-day battle with insurgents in the mountains of southern Helmand, leaving more than 30 dead on both sides. British Harrier strike aircraft based at Kandahar were also called in, along with American A-10 Thunderbolt II and B-52 Stratofortress bombers.
At its height the British deployment in Afghanistan will reach around 5,700 this year. At the same time defence chiefs have tabled plans to reduce the force in Iraq by 2,000 by the end of 2006, with the first 500 due to start leaving this spring.
If Iraq remains calm there are likely to be calls for further drawdowns, making Afghanistan the largest British operational commitment overseas, especially if the presence in Helmand has to be reinforced.