London: Under a new plan being drawn up by NATO commander in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, British troops would be withdrawn from Helmand province and be replaced by US Marines.
“The Marines will be the primary force in Helmand and Nimruz and British forces will go to a combination of Kandahar and Uruzgan and Zabul,” The Telegraph quoted a senior American officer in Nato``s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) as saying.
The controversial proposal, which would have to be approved by a new British government, is already facing stiff resistance in the UK.
Whitehall officials fear that a pullout from Helmand, where nearly 250 British troops have been killed since 2006, would be seen as an admission of defeat.
Some senior American officers believe the British have become too attached to “Helmandshire” and have developed tunnel vision.
A Washington defence source said that "Helmandshire will become Marine-istan."
British officials, meanwhile, have opposed the move saying they have gathered the ground-level expertise and knowledge of local power brokers in Helmand over many years.
However, a senior British officer in ISAF said that a new role outside Helmand would be central to Gen McChrystal`s campaign strategy, which is based on protecting the main Pashtun population centres.
"Through the microcosm of the UK media lens, a lot of people will say, `We fought, we`ve spilt British blood in Helmand and now we`re withdrawing`. Completely wrong! We`re going to where the main effort is,” he said.
Recently, General McChrystal pointed out that Kandahar, where British troops are being moved to, is of “tremendous moral importance” to the Taliban.
“There`s a lot of politics involved in where forces go, so rather than start a political debate about where forces are what I`d rather do is just move on with where things are now and let things develop,” he said.