Britain will come under fresh pressure to send more troops to Afghanistan this month when General Stanley McChrystal, the Nato commander in the country, tells President Barack Obama that a further troop surge by the military alliance is necessary.
The review was ordered by Obama and British officials have been closely involved. It comes as the foreign affairs select committee criticised almost every aspect of the conduct of the war, and doubted whether the Taliban represented a threat to Western security.
A former Foreign Office minister, Kim Howells, meanwhile claimed there would not be public backing for a long war in Afghanistan.
The McChrystal review is expected to call for a doubling of the Afghan army from the current 150,000 troops to more than 300,000 and a concentration of Nato forces in the populous south, rather than in the mountainous east. The review is also likely to seek US agreement to funnel more aid through the Afghan government in an attempt to build its reputation among local people.
Some of the money could be used by villages to attempt to persuade lower level Taliban fighters to quit the war. The Bush administration policy of providing only 10% of its aid through the Karzai government, partly owing to fears about corruption, weakened the government it was seeking to help, the review has found.
The McChrystal finding is a vindication of a long-standing British criticism of US policy towards Afghanistan. In a speech in Washington last week, the international development secretary, Douglas Alexander, warned of the risks of not working to strengthen the Afghan state at national and local levels: "The people of Afghanistan need to see their government rather than foreign powers delivering improvements. The bottom line is that the government in Afghanistan must outperform the Taliban in providing services including security and justice to the people of that nation if the insurgents are to be rejected and the insurgency defeated."
However, the foreign affairs committee report criticised the government for taking on too many nation-building roles in the country, including "the poisoned chalice" of fighting the drugs trade.
The government also comes under fire for "mission creep", unclear objectives and poor co-ordination across Whitehall, including the existence of only a single monthly inter-departmental meeting between ministers on the war.
It says virtually no progress has been made over eight years in combating the endemic problem of corruption. It also concludes the UK's initial deployment to Helmand province was "undermined by unrealistic planning at senior levels, poor co-ordination between Whitehall departments and crucially a failure to provide the military with clear direction".
It suggests the UK government should focus on the single goal of building security in the country, a view seen across Whitehall as simplistic and misunderstanding the link between security and development.
Bill Rammell, the defence minister, who is due to make his first speech on Afghanistan tomorrow, insisted that non-security goals including fighting the drugs trade and building governance were not "optional extras".
Rammell said the crucial aim was "to build the capacity and capability of the Afghan army and police force, and ensuring that when we clear areas of the Taliban we are able with the Afghan government to follow up, to improve governance and build basic services. That is not an optional extra, or an add-on. Unless you are able to do that you are not going to be able to sustainably get rid of the Taliban."
He said the foreign affairs committee had "wildly exaggerated" the level of British resources devoted to fighting the narcotics trade.
Asked how Britain would respond to a US request for extra troops, Rammell said: "We have significantly increased our troop levels from 5,500 to 9,000. This is a multinational effort and I don't think responsibility in terms of troop numbers is exclusively one for this country."
David Cameron appeared to give his qualified backing for more troops in a BBC Westminster Hour interview on Saturday saying: "If what the military are asking for is more troops in Afghanistan to speed up the training of the Afghan national army, it does seem to me that there's a very strong case for saying yes to that."
Howells, though, warned that British attitudes to fighting wars were changing fundamentally. He told the BBC: "At the moment I don't think anyone is going to wear the notion of being in Afghanistan for 30 years and see the terrible drip drip of casualties, deaths and funerals. I don't think the public are up for it any more. Everything has changed. We as a nation now don't want to send out soldiers anywhere. With that mentality I am not sure we would have ever won a big, serious war, as in the past."http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2009/aug/0 ... mcchrystal