Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade Takes Aim At Hearts And Minds--But The Guns Are Mute

Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade Takes Aim At Hearts And Minds--But The Guns Are Mute
April 19th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade Takes Aim At Hearts And Minds--But The Guns Are Mute

Britain's 16 Air Assault Brigade Takes Aim At Hearts And Minds--But The Guns Are Mute
London Times
April 19, 2008 By Michael Evans, in Lashkar Gah
Britain's most senior officer in Afghanistan has the men and the firepower to wage war like no other commander in the British Army.
But, with nearly 8,000 troops under his command and a new array of spy-in-the sky surveillance equipment at his disposal, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith admits that his main job is not to go after Taleban insurgents but to use his soldiers to win the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.
In his first interview since arriving in Helmand, southern Afghanistan, Brigadier Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, told The Times that the mission for his six-month tour was to secure the civilian population and persuade them, with reconstruction projects, to back the Government of Kabul and reject the Taleban.
The contrast between now and the summer of 2006, when the brigade was last here and was forced to confront and kill hundreds of attacking Taleban fighters, is marked.
The British military and the Taleban have learnt harsh lessons from the war of attrition of the past two years. For now, at least, the battles appear to be over.
Instead, the Taleban have turned to terrorism, trying to unsettle and panic the population with suicide attacks and roadside bombs.
The irony is that 16 Air Assault Brigade is significantly more potent a force than it was in the summer of 2006, when British troops fought fierce battles with the Taleban in the isolated outposts of Musa Qala, Sangin and Nowzad.
Then, the brigade had only about 3,300 soldiers and its fighting element consisted of the 3rd Battalion the Parachute Regiment battle group.
Today Brigadier Carleton-Smith has 7,800 troops and four combat battalions, consisting of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Parachute Regiment and two battalions of the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
However, instead of planning major assaults on the remaining Taleban strongholds, Brigadier Carleton-Smith wants to consolidate what was achieved by 52 Infantry Brigade — which has now left Afghanistan after completing its six-month tour —- and to focus on preserving the Taleban-free security zones created in some of the key locations in Helmand.
“The Taleban military effort is on the back foot, so we want to isolate and marginalise the Taleban and then set the conditions to ensure that Afghan governance and rule of law can preside in the province,” he said.
The contrast between 2006 and today is most marked in Musa Qala. The brigadier has just returned from a visit to the former Taleban stronghold town in the north of Helmand.
In 2006, 16 Air Assault Brigade had a platoon of about 30 soldiers camped out in Musa Qala's reinforced district office, under siege from a rampant Taleban.
Under a negotiated arrangement with the elders of the town the British finally withdrew, but the Taleban moved in and took control until they were driven out in December in a big operation led by Afghan troops.
The brigadier said that he now had in Musa Qala a battle group of up to 700 British soldiers, supporting a battalion of about 600 soldiers from the Afghan National Army and 350 members of the Afghan National Police.
But they are not fending off the Taleban, they are providing security for a series of construction projects.
Brigadier Carleton-Smith said: “When I last visited Helmand in October, Musa Qala was Taleban Central. What I now see is the first signs of regeneration. That's a huge evolution in a relatively short period.”
The Taleban “have resorted to suicide attacks and landmines, kidnapping and terrorism, which is both noisy and frightening for the Afghan people. But their tactics don't pose a strategic threat,” he said. “While 2006 was enemy-centric, now it's about the Afghan people, and the flavour for 2008 will be about securing the civilian population.”