Afghanistan: Sangin and Musa Qala - Defence or Defeat?
Sunday, October 01, 2006

Afghanistan: Sangin and Musa Qala - Defence or Defeat?

Now that the heavy conflicts of the summer at Sangin and Musa Qala are coming to a close, more stories about the pressure and strains suffered by the British Army are coming out through armed forces noticeboards and private emails. It is clear that equipment failures remain a drag to the operational effectiveness of our troops.

Troops revealed that they were engaged in all-out fighting, with ammunition running out, equipment malfunctioning and reinforcements and supplies failing to arrive. "Two days ago, we ran out of GPMG [general purpose machine gun] ammunition in our forward location," said an email to a Tory MP, Patrick Mercer.
"The Taleban were dodging around in great numbers at about 700m and firing at us from there from behind all sorts of cover. We ran out of LINK [the linked-up ammunition for a general-purpose machine gun] and we couldn't get any more in overnight because of the darkness and the weight of fire. We were within RPG range which they use superbly. We used our mortars to good effect, but, again, ammunition ran short."
Similar complaints came from another officer, who said that his troops' SA80 rifles melted in the heat. "You would go to pull the trigger and a piece of the gun would come away in your hand," he wrote. His force was also hampered by "a chronic lack of thermal imaging equipment, which allows you to plot the enemy at night. Without it you fight blind in a vast desert you don't know."
Communications equipment, including Harris 117 radios, which allow soldiers to call for help and back-up, was also being rationed, and their Land Rovers often broke down. "They were not made for battles in the desert," said the officer. "Every day, two or three vehicles were being repaired because axles were breaking under the strain. It made you an open target."

This is another black spot against Blair's administration, the Army prevailing because of their professional experience, not due to the fuck-ups of the MOD. Medals may be have been earned, but decent equipment would be a better reward.

Recent reports indicate that the British Army is retreating from Musa Qala after a truce with the Taliban allowing both sides to withdraw without losing face. This was negotiated with the aid of the local shura, the 'council of elders'. Such a withdrawal could amount to defeat, preventing the Kabul government from defending its presence and abandoning the objective of reconstruction, the original goal of the deployment. If such a withdrawal takes place at Sangin as well, questions have to be raised over the ability of the British or Canadians to achieve positive returns in the province of Helmand.


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