British troops' Afghan tour length could double: commander

1st August 2011, Comments 0 comments

British troops could have their tours of duty in Afghanistan doubled in length to a year long, their commander on the ground said in an interview out Monday.

The length of tours for key units could be extended for the drawdown period leading to the end of combat operations in 2014, Task Force Helmand commander Brigadier Ed Davis told The Independent newspaper.

The "spine" of such brigades could be deployed for a year, probably including specialist troops involved in intelligence and those mentoring Afghan forces, rather than front-line soldiers, he said.

"The constant churn of people with whom you have really strong relationships is hard, so I think you need to reduce that by having people in theatre for longer," Davis said.

"I suspect over time we'll see these changes and a larger percentage of people doing longer tours... We are looking at nine to 12 months.

"When you are mentoring, when you are not in charge, you are not leading, you're very much leading from behind.

"Because the 'knowledge depth' is so great, it makes sense to have people here a bit longer."

Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan. They are based in the central belt of the southern Helmand province, where they are battling Taliban insurgents and training up local forces.

Prime Minister David Cameron wants all British troops out of a combat role by 2015.

Michael O'Neill, the head of Britain's Provincial Reconstruction Team in Helmand, backed Davis's proposals.

"We are at a critical time and it is extremely important that we do have this continuity," he said.

"Most of the people at the PRT are doing more than six months, up to a year, some have extended to 18 months.

"We find this is very helpful in building up relationships with Afghan partners and also in seeing through projects."

Last month Britain announced it would withdraw 500 troops from Afghanistan by the end of next year, but would keep soldiers there in a training role until at least 2023.

A Ministry of Defence spokesman said: "The MoD is always examining how best to generate and sustain our armed forces, including by looking at the length of tours and the intervals between them.

"However the vast majority of personnel serve six-month tours and there are no current plans to change this."

© 2011 AFP

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