One of the most highly decorated UK soldiers of the latter part of the 20th Century has been visiting UK troops in Afghanistan.
UK General Sir Michael Rose, a former adjutant general who retired from the Royal Army in 1997, took the opportunity to visit Afghanistan so he could see for himself some of the tasks which NATO troops, many of whom are from the UK, are currently engaged in right across the country.
During the visit General Rose, who was also able to assess and review recent developments, spent ten days observing the security situation in the east and south of Afghanistan:
"My first and most lasting impression was how much more professional the young soldiers and officers of the British Army are today than when I first deployed on counter-insurgency operations in Aden over forty years ago," said General Rose as he reflected on his visit.
"I was particularly struck by the passionate belief of everyone that what we are doing today in Afghanistan is morally right and that, however long it takes, we will ultimately succeed in stabilizing that country.
"Sadly, each day that I was in Afghanistan, the flags on our bases flew at half mast which signified that British or other coalition soldiers had been killed that day. Yet no one I spoke to questioned in any way the enormous price that was being paid in terms of loss of life and injury as a result of our presence in Afghanistan. Everywhere there was a firm commitment to rid that country of the scourge of the Taliban.
"Although it is true that soldiers, not weapons, win counter-insurgency wars, I was nevertheless astonished by how much the modern soldier is today being assisted by new technology, particularly Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (ISTAR) which has manifestly so transformed the nature of the battlefield.
"At a more practical level, not only have the personal skills of soldiers and their equipment been greatly improved in the recent past, but so indeed has the understanding of counter insurgency tactics and doctrine amongst both the military and civilian components.
"The level of coordination between military operations and the Provincial Reconstruction Team in Lashkar Gah, which is manned by both soldiers and civilians from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development, can only be described as highly impressive. This is something that will have undoubtedly sped up the many projects that are currently still in the planning stage.
"In the past, the slow rate of delivery of civil aid projects has undoubtedly played into the hands of the Taliban in Helmand Province and elsewhere. It greatly helps that the Commander of Task Force Helmand and the two star head of the Provincial Reconstruction Team are old friends."
As part of the visit Gen Rose, a former Coldstream guards officer who commanded 22 SAS and was commander of the United Nations Protection Force in Bosnia in 1994, met a number of officials from military, government, international and non-governmental organizations. His conclusion was that much has been achieved in some parts of the country although he recognized that more needs to be done, particularly in the south:
"This is a winnable war and it is undoubtedly being won," he continued. "In the north and west parts of the country, life has virtually returned to normal. Even in the south and east, where the insurgency is still being hard fought, significant military gains continue to be made against the Taliban, and they have now been forced to adopt terrorist tactics rather than conventional attack, with the possible exception of Kandahar province.
"Of course terrorists are able to strike anywhere in Afghanistan, as the terrible attack against the Indian Embassy demonstrates. But the combined strategy of establishing good security, good governance and enabling civil reconstruction is finally beginning to work. No one is in any doubt about the enormous problems that lie ahead particularly with regards to eliminating corruption and providing an economy that is not dependent on the heroin trade. But that has not detracted anyone from their determination to prevail."
UK Lieutenant Colonel Kevin Stratford-Wright, who accompanied General Rose on his visit to Afghanistan, added:
"I doubt whether many visitors to Afghanistan have engaged with such a diverse group of individuals in the search for ground truth. It was truly striking how readily, pretty much all of the people we met, be they civilians or military, shared their views with the general."