20 Sep 2010

Sangin pull out: British forces not ‘running away’

The handover of Sangin from British forces to the US is a tactical decision, and should not be construed as “running away”, Conservative MP and former soldier Patrick Mercer tells Channel 4 News.

Sangin pull out: British forces not 'running away' (Reuters)

British Royal Marines have been in the command of American forces in Sangin for some time. There is nothing unusual about this arrangement; it’s just part of coalition warfare that our grandfathers would have recognised during the Second World War.

With the influx of American troops into Helmand district, there has been a reinforcement of Allied forces. This means there is going to be more men to do the same job than there was in the past. The Royal Marines have been under the command of US forces until such time as US forces built up enough strength to take command of the area themselves.

This has now happened and 40 British Commando Royal Marines are returning under the command of British forces.

Not ‘sinister’ troop withdrawal

Now, on the surface, this could look as if it is some sort of sinister troop withdrawal or rationalisation. It’s not, it’s actually reinforcement both for the Americans and for the British.

The British Brigade Commander will now have an extra battle group – about 600 men – to use as he sees fit under his area of responsibility.

So the surge of US forces has allowed British forces to be built up. Whether this will have any reduction in British forces remains to be seen and will be a military decision in the first place and only recommended to politicians from commanders in the field.

US army will also face heavy casualties

Sangin has been difficult and there has been a lot of casualties. The fact remains that there will probably, sadly, be as many US casualties as British casualties.

It’s not a question of the British running away from a difficult area, it’s simply a tactical decision on the ground which will make command and control easier for everyone.

Patrick Mercer is Conservative MP for Newark and Retford. He served in Nottinghamshire’s Regiment, the Sherwood Foresters, and was commended for gallantry in 1990 before being made MBE in 1992 and OBE in 1996 for service in Bosnia. He then worked as a defence journalist before his election to parliament in 2001. He has also written three books.