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Never say never: British combat troops to return to Afghanistan?

June 3, 2016

Summary: Small numbers of new UK combat troops might deploy to Afghanistan in efforts to support the Afghan army’s battle with the Taliban.Photos of Afghan maps 006

Reports in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere suggesting UK Ministry of Defence are looking at options for sending 50 – 100 British troops back to Afghanistan.

Daily Telegraph, 2 June 2016: Britain is in talks with Nato allies to send up to 100 more soldiers back to Afghanistan amid concern that a resurgent Taliban are retaking large parts of the country.

Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, on Thursday met Afghan leaders on a surprise visit to Kabul as heavy fighting has again swept areas of Helmand where British troops spent years building local security forces.

Defence sources confirmed the Government is considering increasing its deployment to Afghanistan for the first time since 2010, after American calls for allies to shoulder more of the burden propping up Kabul’s forces.

Previously, I thought about the conditions under which NATO might return to Afghanistan.

This looks to be at the request of (and will be carefully coordinated with) the United States which is attempting to prop up the Afghan army in its battles against the Taliban.  There are several ways this could develop: 100 soldiers is not much for combat operations.  The Telegraph suggests this might be part of a reinforcement of the UK presence in Kabul to enable other US troops to deploy to southern Afghanistan where the Taliban are strong.   Alternately, a collection of British special forces, forward air controllers, intelligence personnel, drone operators or similar “force multipliers” might increase the capacity to take on the Taliban in cooperation with US troops.

Although theoretically, ISAF and the international military effort finished at the end of 2014, there is still an “ISAF II”  mission based in Kabul under NATO Operation RESOLUTE SUPPORT.  Approximately 10,000 US troops and 2,000 other international troops (including British and Germans) remain in Afghanistan, primarily in Kabul and the military airbase at Bagram, to the north of the capital.   The Afghan National Army is in the lead almost all the time in combat operations – and suffering high numbers of casualties – but has asked for help from US forces (particularly airpower) when the going gets difficult.  The US Department of Defence are believed to be presenting options to President Obama for combat troop levels in the coming year.  In theory, the US force levels are to be cut in half next year.  But a relatively small amount of specialist combat capability (including special forces, air power, intelligence, trainers, advisors, drone operators, engineers and elite troops) could make a significant contribution to the Afghan military effort.

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