As trailed earlier today, the Defence Secetary told the Commons this afternoon that UK forces will hand over responsibility for Sangin to the U.S military within the next six months. He said that they will then concentrate
on areas in central Helmand, that the mission was essential to our national security, and he paid tribute to British services serving in Afghanistan.
Dr Fox said that “We face many challenges; progress has been slower in some areas than
others, particularly on the political side," adding that "we expect progress in counter-insurgency to be gradual and
cumulative." However, he insisted that good progress was being made in developing the Afghan security services, and said that successful counter-insurgency would take time.
He added that he had authorised a request from
ISAF that the UK deploy its theatre reserve battalion, which is
currently stationed in Cyprus. Dr Fox said this battalion will withdraw
from Helmand once the handover of Sangin is complete. “Counter-insurgencies are about progressively winning the confidence
of the local people and US marines are well placed to succeed,” he said.
Patrick Mercer, who recently contested the Defence Select Committee elections, warned earlier today that the Taliban could spin the redeployment as a victory, but insisted that "a great deal has been achieved in Sangin". Reporting the move earlier today, the Independent suggested a more stark view, drawing parallels with the British withdrawal from Basra in Iraq, while the Guardian asserted that the Prime Minister's always been sceptical about the Sagin deployment. (Both papers claimed the story exclusively.)
It makes sense for the U.S to take over the Sangin mission, since they have the troop numbers required if it's to stand a chance of working fully. Richard Dannatt, the former Chief of the Defence Staff and Conservative Defence Adviser, said earlier today that our forces in Sangin were "like flies in a honey pot". Today's announcement bolsters my view that David Cameron's seeking a way out of Afghanistan as fast as possible. In responding for Labour, Bob Ainsworth sought to exploit differences between Cameron and Fox over withdrawal timing for the mission as a whole.