UK forces in Helmand `made mess of things`: WikiLeaks

Leaked memos reveal incompetence of UK troops to impose security in Helmand.

London: US and Afghan officials slammed British troops over their efforts in the restive Helmand province of Afghanistan, accusing them of making "a mess of things”, in cables revealed by WikiLeaks.

The Guardian newspaper on Friday published a raft of leaked memos in which senior officials, including Afghan President Hamid Karzai, criticised British troops for their inability to impose security in the southern province.

In a memo sent in April 2007, General Dan McNeill, the then commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, told a US drug-control officer that he "was particularly dismayed by the British effort”.

"They had made a mess of things in Helmand, their tactics were wrong," McNeill said.

In another cable, sent on February 21, 2009, a US official says Karzai said the incompetence of British troops had led to a breakdown in law and order in Helmand.

"When I first returned to Afghanistan, I had only 14 American soldiers with me," the cable quoted Karzai as saying. "Helmand was safe for girls to go to school. Now...British soldiers are in Helmand, and the people are not safe.”

"We must stand on a higher moral platform than the bad guys," the President added.

In a separate memo, a US official reports Karzai as having told US senator John McCain an "anecdote in which a woman from Helmand asked him to `take the British away and give us back the Americans`."

Another damning assessment of British efforts was revealed in a cable sent on December 08, 2008, in which a US official said, "We and Karzai agree the British are not up to the task of securing Helmand."

Much of the criticism levelled at the British troops regarded their failure to secure the town of Sangin.

A cable sent from Kabul on January 14, 2009, revealed that Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal accused the British of doing too little to interact with the local community.

"Stop calling it the Sangin District and start calling it the Sangin Base," Mangal told British military chiefs. "All you have done here is built a military camp next to the city."

A cable sent a week later showed that Mangal told visiting US Vice-President Joe Biden that he did not "have anything against them (the British) but they must leave their bases and engage with the people."

Britain`s Ministry of Defence (MoD) issued a statement on Thursday defending their troops` contribution, and said the situation in Sangin -- responsibility for which was handed over to the US in September 2010 -- was much improved.

"British forces did an excellent job in Sangin, delivering progress by increasing security and taking the fight to the insurgency," an MoD spokesman said. "That work is now being continued by the US Marines.”

"Both Afghan leaders, including the governor of Sangin, and the US Marines have publicly recognised and paid tribute to the sacrifice and achievements of British forces in that area," the spokesman added.

Bureau Report