Sat, Dec 04, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Cables highlight UK’s various shortcomings

Reuters and AFP, LONDON

British troops were “not up” to the task of securing Afghanistan’s troubled Helmand Province and the local governor pleaded for US reinforcements, US diplomats said in a new batch of cables released by WikiLeaks.

“We and Karzai agree the British are not up to the task of securing Helmand,” US diplomats from the Kabul embassy said in a 2008 cable published by the Guardian yesterday.

Helmand Governor Gulab Mangal told a team led by US Vice President Joe Biden in January last year that US forces were urgently needed as British security in Sangin District did not even extend to the main bazaar.

“I do not have anything against them [the British] but they must leave their bases and engage with the people,” Mangal said, according to a cable sent from the US embassy in Kabul.

“Stop calling it the Sangin district and start calling it the Sangin base — all you have done here is built a military camp next to the city,” he added.

The head of NATO forces in Afghanistan between 2007 and 2008 also criticized the British strategy, the newspaper said.

“He was particularly dismayed by the British effort. They had made a mess of things in Helmand, their tactics were wrong and the deal that London cut on Musa Qala [town] had failed,” US commander Dan McNeill, was quoted by US diplomats as saying.

McNeill was referring to a ceasefire agreement with the Taliban that allowed the British to pull troops out of the besieged town of Musa Qala in 2006.

GORDON BROWN

In another set of documents released, US officials believed former British prime minister Gordon Brown had an “abysmal track record” and lurched “from political disaster to disaster.”

Cables sent from the US embassy in London showed US officials’ dismissals of the British leader’s attempts to guide his “rudderless” Labour party after former British prime minister Tony Blair stepped down in 2007.

A cable sent by then-US ambassador Robert Tuttle on July 31, 2008, speculated on the possibility that Brown could be ousted as leader of his party.

“As Gordon Brown lurches from political disaster to disaster, Westminster [the home of Britain’s parliament] is abuzz with speculation about whether he will be replaced,” the memo began.

The cable concluded that because of “Brown’s abysmal track record,” Labour lawmakers seriously considered staging a coup.

In another memo dated March 3, 2008, Tuttle suggested that Labour lawmakers sensed the party was “rudderless” following Blair’s departure.

“Even though Blair ended up unpopular, he was the sun around which the party orbited, and his speeches, no matter the content, sparked an emotional response,” Tuttle said. “Brown’s earnest and praiseworthy vision excites no opposition and yet it seems to excite no great enthusiasm either.”

Tuttle pinpointed former UK foreign secretary David Miliband as the most suitable replacement following an electrifying speech at the 2008 Labour party conference.

Miliband eventually lost out to his younger brother, Ed, in a leadership vote in September after Brown resigned following a crushing defeat in May’s general election.

“David Miliband provided rare moments of star power for a party that seems increasingly to miss Tony Blair’s charisma,” Tuttle said in the March cable.

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