Army chiefs face Afghan time pressure

By Alex Stevenson

The new head of Britain’s forces in Afghanistan and US four-star general David Petraeus admitted concerns about time pressure in separate speeches in London last night.

Major General Sir Nick Carter warned that troops in Afghanistan “don’t have the luxury of time” as he pressed the importance of showing improvements rapidly.

He said additional troops from the Americans and increased resources in the south of Afghanistan opened space for progress.

“We do have an opportunity, during the course of the next year, to make a difference,” he said.

“But I absolutely acknowledge that time is not on our side, and we’ve got to show positive trends as quickly as we possibly can.”

Elsewhere in London the man described as “the pre-eminent practitioner of the military arts in the world today”, Gen Petraeus of US central command, packed Westminster’s Central Hall to deliver his bleak assessment.

He too was concerned by the time issue, pressing the difference between differing expectations of success. He said the “Washington clock” ran quicker than the many “Afghan clocks”, adding “all of these timepieces are out there”.

A former head of the British Army said from the audience: “There’s a London clock as well.”

Gen Petraeus’ speech painted a grim picture of the current situation in Afghanistan.

He said the Taliban have “expanded their strength and influence” and that, like in Iraq, “everything in Afghanistan is hard and it is hard all the time”.

Prospects for negotiation with the Taliban were diminished at present, he said, because “the insurgency probably thinks it’s in the ascendant in many areas”.

He explained that the principles which brought success in Iraq, when violence levels were slashed following the ‘troops surge’ of 2007, would be repeated in Afghanistan.

A signal of commitment would be accompanied by an increase in coalition forces, which would enable growth in indigenous security forces. Together, these would enable increased employment of counter-insurgency concepts.

Gen Petraeus added: “While the situation is serious, the mission is still doable.”