Afghan expectations 'unrealistic'
Published 17/11/2010 | 17:32
A senior British commander has acknowledged that he had raised "unrealistic" public expectations about what international forces were capable of achieving in Afghanistan.
General Sir Nick Parker, the former deputy commander of international forces in the country, said he had appeared "over-confident" in the run up to last year's Operation Moshtarak offensive against the Taliban in central Helmand.
Giving evidence to the Commons Defence Committee, Gen Parker, who is now Commander-in-Chief Land, said he had wanted to demonstrate his belief in the troops' ability to undertake a difficult and dangerous operation.
However, he said that the effect had been to raise wider public expectations to an "unrealistic level". "I consider myself to have been guilty of being over-confident - or appearing to be over-confident," he said.
"I think, before Operation Moshtarak started, I was deliberately saying 'This is going to go well'. I was using the language of 60, 90, 120 days to bring in government. I think that raised expectations to an unrealistic level.
"With the benefit of hindsight, I rationalise this by saying that I was doing it because our men and women were about to go into a very dangerous operation and we needed to be confident in our ability to do that. But I think the wider public message that we sent raised expectations of progress above that which was achievable."
Last week, the former British envoy to Kabul, Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, told another Commons committee that senior military commanders had persistently given ministers "misleadingly optimistic" reports about the progress they were making.
In his evidence, Gen Parker also disclosed that he believed the policy of "heroic restraint" - designed to reduce the numbers of Afghan civilians being killed and injured by coalition forces - had initially been taken too far.
The policy was originally introduced by the former US commander of international forces, General Stanley McChrystal, amid concerns that the high level of civilian casualties was turning the local population against the coalition.
However Gen Parker said that the balance of risks had shifted too far, undermining the ability of commanders on the ground to take the initiative against the Taliban. "We over-corrected in order to bring people back from what was, on occasion, a very aggressive approach and where the risk balance between protection and offensive action was a little out of kilter," he said.