Britain left Afghanistan too early warns Ipswich’s soldier councillor

Alasdair Ross relaxes in Afghanistan

Alasdair Ross relaxes in Afghanistan - Credit: Archant

As the Taliban threatens to over-run the regional Afghan capital of Sangin, the Ipswich councillor who spent seven months fighting in and around the town spoke of his fears that British troops had been withdrawn too early.

Alasdair Ross, now 53, spent seven months in Sangin in 2009. A career soldier, he retired from army several years earlier but remained a reservist and returned for the deployment as a non-commissioned officer because of his specialist skills.

He said his major concern was that if the Taliban did establish control of Sangin, there could be a major increase in the amount of heroin being cultivated in the region next year.

“I know why the government wanted to pull out of Afghanistan and I know that the families of those who died there – and of those who will not now be sent there – were pleased about the decision, but I do worry that we just left things ready for the Taliban to return.

“The thing is the Taliban never really went away – they just blended into the background ready to come back when the time was right.”

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Mr Ross said the Afghan army was being developed into a strong fighting force – but it did not have the manpower to fight on enough fronts. It was having to fight in the north of the country as well as the south and was being spread too thin.

The Afghan police could not be relied upon because it recruited in local areas and was open to serious corruption.

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Sangin is about the size of Needham Market – but it is the only settlement of any size in the area.

“It is in the heart of a very fertile area, the centre of the poppy-growing region. It might not be very big, but it is a very important centre.

“It was first taken from the Taliban by the Royal Anglians and they allowed a market to be set up in the town. That thrived and was at the centre of the regional economy – but I heard that it stopped operating last Thursday.”

Mr Ross believes that NATO special forces will have to be used alongside the Afghan army if the Taliban is to be turned back – but feels they are more likely to be US special forces than the SAS which is already committed to work in norther Iraq.

And he warned that the “fighting season” in Afghanistan will be coming to an end soon – it is difficult to fight during the harsh winter in the country.

From May onwards the Taliban will be more interested in harvesting the opium poppies before the fighting season re-starts in the autumn.

Mr Ross is also concerned about reports that Daesh – or IS – is becoming established in the country among those disenchanted with the Taliban.

“There are reports that IS are trying to stop people from growing poppies for heroin. But if previous experience is anything to go by, the Taliban will just ignore that.”

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