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Saturday, July 22, 2006

In the forgotten war

John D McHugh/Getty
A British soldier from 16 Air Assault Brigade
on patrol in Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

Afghanistan close to anarchy, warns general

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.

The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said today. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

Corrupt local officials were fuelling the problem and Nato's provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were sending out conflicting signals, Gen Richards told a conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "The situation is close to anarchy," he said, referring in particular to what he called "the lack of unity between different agencies".

He described "poorly regulated private security companies" as unethical and "all too ready to discharge firearms". Nato forces in Afghanistan were short of equipment, notably aircraft, but also of medical evacuation systems and life-saving equipment.

Officials said later that France and Turkey had sent troops to Kabul but without any helicopters to support them.

Gen Richards will also take command of the 4,500-strong British brigade in Helmand province at the heart of the hostile, poppy-growing south of the country when it comes under Nato's overall authority. He said today that Nato "could not afford not to succeed" in its attempt to bring long-term stability to Afghanistan and build up the country's national army and security forces. He described the mission as a watershed for Nato,

posted by Steve @ 2:17:00 AM

2:17:00 AM

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