New British troops aim to beat Taliban on trust

Updated: 2011-01-31 07:54

By Robin Millard (China Daily)

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SALISBURY PLAIN, United Kingdom - The next British brigade heading to Afghanistan will enter Helmand Province with a new emphasis on giving locals enough confidence to oust the Taliban from their strongholds.

Ten years and now 350 British military deaths into the mission, their focus will be on improving the lives of ordinary Afghans first and on front-line fighting second, in a clear strategy shift.

Leaders of the 6,500-strong 3 Commando Brigade believe success rests on convincing nervous residents of the long-lawless Helmand that they can place their trust in the democratic governance on offer.

The Royal Marines formation is heading back to Afghanistan in April with memories still fresh of the 33 men it lost when it led British operations in the country in 2009.

The first British brigade to go on a gruelling fourth tour, they will take charge in the southern province's central belt - fighting the insurgency, training up local troops and assisting reconstruction efforts.

"The central pillar of our approach is to focus on the people first and the insurgents second," Brigadier Ed Davis, who will command the operation, told journalists on Thursday as his troops underwent their final training.

The brigadier's troops have had 12 months of general and then mission-specific training before entering final rehearsal manoeuvres on Salisbury Plain in southwest England.

On the bleak grassland home to the famous Stonehenge monument, Chinook and Sea King helicopters sweep down to drop off a platoon outside a replica village.

While the Cold War-era buildings are modelled on Germany and the Afghan troops in the mixed patrol are played by Gurkhas, the civilians are played by genuine Afghans.

So when the British troops sit down for a "shura" meeting with the local elders, complete with tea and sweets, the Pashto-language dialogue is translated for the benefit of the fresh-faced officers - but these days they take a back seat to their Afghan counterparts.

Agence France-Presse


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