British troops in Afghanistan will hand over combat operations to the Americans later this year, then concentrate on training the Afghan forces.
In the wake of the government’s refusal to deploy an extra 2,000 permanent troops and ministers’ failure to give commanders in Iraq the resources they need, army chiefs are said to be angry at Gordon Brown’s decision to wind down the fighting. They believe it has been made in order to save costs.
Although Brown touched on the subject in the Commons last week, this was overshadowed by news that 700 more British troops will be boosting security for the summer’s presidential election.
The prime minister said: “As resources are freed from the south and the US moves in, we will shift operations away from front-line combat towards training the Afghanistan army and police.”
British special forces will continue to mount offensive operations alongside the Americans, mainly on the Pakistan border. A senior defence source said: “We will concentrate on training and we can then train more Afghans more quickly.”
About 9,000 US troops will be deployed in Helmand province, southern Afghanistan, by the autumn, eclipsing the 5,500 British soldiers based there. Senior British officers are said to be furious at the plan, which they believe is solely about saving money.
Military commanders had asked for up to 3,500 more troops to create secure zones, but vehicle shortages made that unrealistic. General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the army, was preparing to send an extra 2,000 men before the Treasury vetoed it.
Two British infantry battalions will be focused on training the Afghans, with the third at Camp Bastion as a rapid reaction reserve force if the Afghan forces get into trouble.
Britain has a total of 8,300 troops in Afghanistan - 5,500 in Helmand - but the figure will temporarily rise to 9,000 to provide more security for the presidential elections in August.