7 years ago
British troops are poised to hand over control of Musa Qala to the U.S. Marines.
British troops are to hand over control of the largest town in north Helmand to US forces as part of a major “rebalancing” of UK forces in Helmand, the Defence Secretary said yesterday.
Speaking on a visit to Helmand, the Defence Secretary, Bob Ainsworth, said that Musa Qala would be handed over to US forces in the next month and that “further changes” are likely to ensure that British forces have the “greatest effect in countering the threat posed by the insurgency and protecting the civilian population.”
The decision to hand over Musa Qala to US forces had been one of a series of options under consideration by senior Nato commanders. In January The Times reported that British troops were likely to be pulled out of Musa Qala, Kajaki and possibly the iconic town of Sangin …
British troops originally moved into Musa Qala in June of 2006 to counter Taleban attacks that threatened to overwhelm weak local security forces in the town. In late 2006 British forces withdrew from Musa Qala under the terms of a controversial deal that saw local tribes promises to exclude the Taliban and govern the town.
However, Taliban fighters retook Musa Qala in February 2007 and held it till December when it was retaken in a major offensive by a mixed US and UK force. The retaking of the town was aided by the defection of a local Taleban commander, Mullah Abdul Salaam, who was subsequently installed as the local district governor.
Twenty-three British soldiers have died in and around the town. General Messenger said that British forces would leave behind a success story.
There is a problem within the Ministry of Defence (and the higher echelon of the chain of command) in Britain. Musa Qala is not a success story. The British warrior is a good as any on earth, but the officer corps has a troubling predilection to grant themselves special dispensation to turn their own failures into successes (it happened with the campaign in Basra).
Let’s take a quick detour through recent history. The British were on the front end of the attempt to make deals with the Taliban, and even earlier, the local tribes. A deal was indeed struck with the locals to turn away the Taliban. The promise didn’t obtain, and the Taliban took control of Musa Qala.
In a tip of the hat to more deal-making, the British befriended one Mullah Abdul Salaam, a so-called “former mid-level Taliban commander” who promised to bring his fighters to bear upon the Taliban during the initial assault of U.S. and British troops to retake Musa Qala. In fact, upon the initiation of the assault, Salaam “stayed in his compound in Shakahraz, ten miles east, with a small cortège of fighters, where he made increasingly desperate pleas for help.” In other words, he screamed like a little girl.
This whole incident has been a stain on the British effort, and is not indicative of the high quality enlisted men in the British military. The CTC Sentinel at West Point had some very direct words to the MoD regarding Musa Qala in July 2008.
Since the initial withdrawal from Musa Qala in 2006, the British image for military capability in general and counter-insurgency competence in particular has suffered a number of setbacks, by no means all in Afghanistan. The success of Iraqi forces in Basra in 2008 was widely seen as them doing a job that the British had left unfinished for political reasons. Britain’s relations with Kabul have suffered a number of setbacks, from the removal of diplomats following direct negotiations (bypassing Kabul) with the Taliban at Musa Qala in 2006 to Kabul’s rejection of Lord Paddy Ashdown to be the new UN envoy in Afghanistan … If the United Kingdom fails in Musa Qala, its relations with coalition partners and Afghans alike is likely to be harmed, and it may have a further impact on its international standing.
One and a half years ago the relations between Salaam and the British troops had soured. The British had accused him of corruption and thuggery, while he had accused the British of undermining his “authority.” Salaam was “feathering his own nest” while reconstruction is not forthcoming from the largesse poured into Musa Qala. It would appear that relations have not gotten any better in the last year. “At their latest meeting, Mullah Salaam is complaining that the Household Cavalry Regiment Battlegroup, which has been here for nearly six months, simply isn’t violent enough.”
This is from a man who couldn’t convince his own “fighters” to make good on their promises to take Musa Qala back from the Taliban. Yet it also appears that Salaam hasn’t added one iota to the security around the area in the time that he has been “governor” of the area. Government officials still can’t move more than one kilometer outside of Musa Qala because of security problems.
It’s time for some serious counterinsurgency in and around Musa Qala, and this means that Salaam must go, or be relegated to the sidelines as the irrelevant lackey that he is. If the British didn’t have the resources to pacify the area, then the U.S. Marines might be able to squeeze the enemy out of hiding and kill them – and retake the roads in the area. And so much for tribal engagement and deals with the Taliban as the answer to every problem in Afghanistan.