UK ex-commander says Afghanistan mission "worthless"

LONDON Sat Mar 7, 2009 3:21pm GMT

Australian and British troops practice firing artillery guns at the camp Armadillo in Helmand province April 25, 2008. REUTERS/Omar Sobhani

Australian and British troops practice firing artillery guns at the camp Armadillo in Helmand province April 25, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Omar Sobhani

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LONDON (Reuters) - A former British commander in Afghanistan has described the military operation in the south of the country as "worthless" and compared the campaign to the start of the Vietnam war.

Ex-SAS commander Maj. Sebastian Morley, who resigned last year in protest at the handling of the conflict, said operations were being undermined by a lack of troops and resources.

"I don't think we have even scratched the surface as far as the conflict goes," he told the Daily Telegraph in an interview published on Saturday, his first since stepping down.

"I think the level of casualties and attrition is only set to rise. This is the equivalent to the start of the Vietnam conflict, there is much more to come," he said.

"We hold tiny areas of ground in Helmand and we are kidding ourselves if we think our influence goes beyond 500 metres of our security bases," Morley said.

"We go out on operations, have a punch-up with the Taleban and then go back to camp for tea. We are not holding the ground."

In response to his comments the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Saturday described the security situation as manageable and said the influx of more U.S. troops this summer would have a major impact.

"It is true that in an area the size of Helmand there is a limit to how much ground we can hold. But that does not mean we are not making progress. We are," the MoD said in a statement.

"BLOOD ON HANDS"

Morley, 40, also accused the government of having "blood on its hands" over the unnecessary deaths of four of his soldiers.

"I had to resign. I had warned (the MoD) time and time again that there were going to be needless deaths if we were not given the right equipment, and they ignored this advice. There is blood on their hands," he said.

Nick Harvey, the shadow defence secretary for the Liberal Democratic party, said Morley's criticisms were right.

"The government's first duty should be to get our troops the equipment they need on the front line as quickly as possible," Harvey said in a statement.

Morley resigned after four soldiers were killed when their Snatch Land Rover, which he warns are unsafe, hit an anti-tank mine in Helmand province last June.

"There was no other vehicle to use. The simple truth is that the protection on these vehicles is inadequate and this led to the unnecessary deaths," the commander told the paper.

"Major Morley is right to be angry about this issue. Ministers and top brass must have known that Snatch Land Rovers were totally inappropriate for use in Afghanistan," Harvey said.

In response to Morley's comments, an MoD spokesman said that it accepted that Snatch was not suitable for high-risk environments but was adequate for everyday operations.

"UK forces are better equipped than ever before, with new technology and state of the art armoured vehicles continuing to arrive in Afghanistan," he said.

"The clear advice of commanders is that Snatch remains mission critical for certain roles."

(Reporting by Stefano Ambrogi; Editing by Charles Dick)

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