Good to see that the UK's Ministry of Defence is now posting online its briefings to journalists. On Thursday Fleet Street's finest heard via a video link-up from Major General Nick Carter, commander of NATO's Regional Command South. Speaking from Kandahar in Southern Afghanistan, Carter explained that he commanded around 45,000 NATO troops in an area the size of England and Wales put together.
He said that the McChrystal strategy had meant a change in mission statement. Until last July he had been talking about defeating the insurgency; now he is talking about protecting a population.
There are many fascinating elements to the briefing, which gives a clear insight into NATO strategy in the region. One example will suffice. Major-General Carter explained that British forces in Sangin have had a very tough time over the past 18 months, but not simply because of the Taliban. In fact they have been in the middle of a complicated tribal dispute.
Carter explained it as follows: "When Sher Mohammed Akindzada was removed from the governorate of Helmand at the end of 2005, the delicate balance of power that existed between his Alizai tribe and that of Dan Mohammed Khan up in Sangin, who are Allakozai, was disrupted. The upshot of that was that the Ishaqzai tribe, which had been reasonably downtrodden for several years, saw an opportunity to rise up and have a go at the Allakozai tribe. And Dan Mohammed Khan, the leader of the Allakozai tribe, found himself under significant pressure."
This meant that British forces in Sangin tasked with providing security and stability in that area in partnership with Afghans, have been labelled as supporters of the Allakozai tribe. The result is that Alizai and the Ishaqzai who want to make trouble for the Allakozai have made life difficult for the British battle groups.
Carter referred to Major-General Flynn's report on intelligence (published last week - see below), saying that he agreed with the critique it offered of traditional intelligence gathering and that it was necessary to appreciate what was happening in a particular area, rather than simply looking at insurgent groups, the economy, etc as separate entities.
As he said in answer to a question about Flynn's report: "What we're dealing with in Afghanistan is not just purely enemy matters. It's what's often called the white picture; it's understanding the politics, the governance dynamics, the tribal dynamics, the anthropological issues. It's those issues which don't strictly come under the definition of intelligence but are none the less the information environment, which if you don't understand it and you don't work out how to corral it you simply won't make the sort of progress we were describing."