May 22, 2010

USMC To Command UK's Helmand Force


US To Command UK's Helmand Force

By James Blitz, Defence and Diplomatic Editor
Financial Times
May 22, 2010

Britain’s 8,500 troops in Helmand province will go under the direct control of a US Marine Corps general next month as Nato restructures its military operations in southern Afghanistan.

Following Washington’s decision to pour an extra 20,000 troops into the south this year, the Ministry of Defence announced on Friday that all Nato forces in Helmand would come under the overall command of Maj Gen Richard Mills of the US Marine Corps.

For the past seven months, a British general, Nick Carter, has been in charge of Regional Command South, Nato’s operational centre at Kandahar airfield, which oversees alliance operations across six southern Afghan provinces, including Helmand.

However, the big increase in US troops operating in the south has taken total NATO forces from 30,000 to 50,000 during recent months. This has forced Nato strategists to divide this single operational command centre, so that military planning can be better focused.

Gen Mills will now take control of a new operational centre, to be called RC South West, which will oversee Helmand and Nimruz provinces.

Gen Carter will now move to lead a newly configured RC South command centre, covering Kandahar, Dai Kundi, Uruzgan and Zabol provinces.

Some unease about Friday’s announcement is apparent within parts of the MoD. The principal concern is that Gen Carter will leave the command of RC South in November – probably to be replaced by an American.

This will leave US generals running the entire Nato mission across the south of Afghanistan at a tactical level for the following 12 months.

“The fear that people have is that, for the whole of 2011, you will have no British tactical input at the two-star [general] level into the operation across the south,” said a senior British military figure. “That is unfortunate, given how critical the next 19 months in Afghanistan are going to be.”

However, UK military chiefs sought to play down any suggestion that the decision to put their forces under US command was an embarrassment for Britain, which has suffered significant casualties in Helmand during the past four years.

They noted that NATO had decided that the command of RC South West would rotate and that Gen Mills would therefore give way to a British commander after a period.

British military chiefs also pointed out that UK troops in Afghanistan had regularly come under the overall command of generals of different nationalities during the past few years – the most recent one being Dutch.

“What is striking about this decision is not that the US is taking over command of British troops now,” said a senior UK military figure. “Instead, what’s remarkable is that the US has accepted that a British general can run RC South West [after an initial period] and put himself in charge of 20,000 American troops.

“Britain is the only country the US would trust to do this.”

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