Ewen MacAskill — The Guardian May 18, 2018
Britain has about 600 troops in Afghanistan at present, mainly based in Kabul training officers and not engaged in combat. There is also a small contingent of special forces.
The new deployment could see hundreds more return to Afghanistan. The UK withdrew almost all of its combat troops from the country in 2014.
Faced with a Taliban resurgence, the US, which has about 15,000 troops in the country supporting the Afghan military, asked the UK and other Nato countries last summer to send reinforcements. Britain responded with an extra 85.
Later in the year, Trump renewed the plea and the proposed new UK deployment is in response to that request by the US president. The hundreds more British troops are expected to be involved in training rather than combat.
The Ministry of Defence, which usually does not discuss troop deployments in advance, said only that the UK’s contribution was kept under constant review.
An MoD spokesperson said: “The support the UK provides Afghanistan on security, development and governance is crucial to building a stable state and reducing the terrorist threat to the UK. We remain committed to Nato’s non-combat Resolute Support mission, in which we play an important role, and keep our contribution under constant review.”
In spite of pressure on the defence budget, the UK is engaged in 25 operations overseas. It is also struggling to retain and recruit personnel, a problem that was highlighted in new MoD figures published on Thursday showing the army shrinking, down to 77,120, well short of its supposed strength of 82,000.
The overall size of the armed forces, including navy, air force and army, stands at 194,140, down by 2,900 from last year. The army, down from 78,410 a year ago, is at its smallest since the 17th century. Recruitment is traditionally harder in peacetime.
The reduction is down to factors including a series of budget squeezes computer glitches on the part of Capita, to which the MoD outsourced recruitment, and low morale. The MoD’s annual armed forces continuous attitudes survey revealed that 61% of service personnel described morale as low.
The shadow defence secretary, Nia Griffiths, criticised the government for its “shocking failure to recruit and retain armed forces”.
An MoD spokesperson did not directly address the shrinkage but said: “We are currently active on 25 operations in 30 countries around the world and have enough personnel to meet all our operational requirements. In the past year, we have recruited over 13,000 people into a variety of posts and we have a range of initiatives to make sure we attract and keep the personnel we need.
“We remain committed to ensuring we have the right skills at every level of the armed forces so that our world-leading military can continue to face intensifying global threats.”