November 16, 2009
British forces should buy off potential Taleban recruits with “bags of gold”, according to a new army field manual published yesterday.
Army commanders should also talk to insurgent leaders with “blood on their hands” in order to hasten the end of the conflict in Afghanistan.
The edicts, which are contained in rewritten counter-insurgency guidelines, will be taught to all new army officers. They mark a strategic rethink after three years in which British and Nato forces have failed to defeat the Taleban. The manual is also a recognition that the Army’s previous doctrine for success against insurgents, which was based on the experience in Northern Ireland, is now out of date.
The new instructions came on the day that Gordon Brown went farther than before in setting out Britain’s exit strategy from Afghanistan. The Prime Minister stated explicitly last night that he wanted troops to begin handing over districts to Afghan authorities during next year — a general election year in Britain.
Addressing the issue of paying off the locals, the new manual states that army commanders should give away enough money to dissuade them from joining the enemy. The Taleban is known to pay about $10 (£5.95) a day to recruit local fighters.
Major-General Paul Newton said: “The best weapons to counter insurgents don’t shoot. In other words, use bags of gold in the short term to change the security dynamics. But you don’t just chuck gold at them, this has to be done wisely.”
British commanders in Afghanistan and Iraq have complained that their access to money on the battlefield — cash rather than literal gold — compares poorly with their US counterparts.
Adam Holloway, a former army officer and the Tory MP for Gravesham in Kent, said that the idea was a matter of “shutting the door after the horse has bolted”. He added: “I know that a number of generals thought in 2006 that, rather than send a British brigade to Helmand, they should buy off people in the tribal areas. Now it’s too late.”
Mr Brown told the Lord Mayor’s Banquet at Guildhall in the City last night that a summit of Nato allies would be held in London in January, which could set a timetable for the transfer of security control to the Afghans starting in 2010. Military sources said that the first areas to be involved would probably be in the north and west of Afghanistan — not in Helmand in the south, where British troops are based.
The counter-insurgency field manual also highlights the importance of talking to the enemy. “There’s no point in talking to people who don’t have blood on their hands,” General Newton said, launching the document in London.
Britain’s early experience of handing out cash in Afghanistan proved abortive. About £16 million in cash was given to farmers to stop them growing poppy crops for the heroin trade, which helps to fund the Taleban. The money is believed to have had little impact on the opium yields.
The manual says that money can be the answer, if it is prudently distributed. “Properly spent within a context of longer-term planning, money offers a cost-effective means for pulling community support away from the insurgents and provides the military with a much-needed economy of force
measure,” it says. “Unemployed and under-employed military-aged males typically provide the richest vein from which insurgents recruit ‘foot soldiers’. Short-term, labour-intensive projects are therefore the best way to disrupt such recruiting.”
“The counter-insurgent should be careful not to be over-generous since this will distort local economic and social activity and may lead to unproductive dependency.”
The positive impact of military units going into battle with bags of cash at their disposal is underlined in the manual by the experience of a top British commander who served in Iraq. “The hoops that I had to jump through to get the very few UK pounds that were available were . . . amazing; the American divisional commanders were resourced and empowered in ways that we could only dream of,” he says.
“UK commanders on recent operations have not had quick access to the same levels of cash as . . . their US counterparts,” the manual says. “Where possible, mission command should apply to money as much as any other weapon or enabling system.”
It is more than eight years since the Army last published a counter-insurgency doctrine, when the main lessons contained in it arose from operations in Northern Ireland and the Balkans.
General Newton, Assistant Chief of Defence Staff Development Concepts and Doctrine, said that new ideas were needed to cope with the media-savvy insurgents who are fighting in Afghanistan and that there was no place for arrogance on the part of the British military hierarchy, relying on their experience of past campaigns.
The Americans complained in Iraq that the British in Basra too often referred to the lessons of Northern Ireland in dictating how the insurgency should be handled.
A bomb disposal specialist from 33 Regiment Royal Engineers was killed by an explosion near Gereshk in central Helmand province on Sunday, the Ministryof Defence said yesterday. He was part of the Counter-IED (improvised explosive device) Task Force and the 97th member of the Armed Forces to die in Afghanistan this year.