Ex-military chief in MP bid: To Helmand and back

PUBLISHED: 15:33 17 February 2010 | UPDATED: 09:24 12 August 2010

EVER VIGILANT: British troops  prepare for action.

EVER VIGILANT: British troops prepare for action.

A FORMER United Nations Commander has warned that the killing of civilians in Afghanistan was a sad setback to the latest army operation against the Taliban but maintains success in Helmand is achievable .

Colonel Bob Stewart aka Bosnia Bob’ - now one of the Conservative Party’s prospective parliamentary candidates in the borough.

A FORMER United Nations Commander has warned that the killing of civilians in Afghanistan was a "sad setback" to the latest army operation against the Taliban but maintains success in Helmand is "achievable".

Colonel Bob Stewart, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Beckenham, said that Operation Moshtarak - the largest push by Nato and American troops since 2001 - will not be easy but it is winnable.

But he warned that the death of 12 civilians on the first day of the operation could turn thousands more into enemies.

He said: "Until the people of Afghanistan feel that they are safe and that they have a decent standard of living, we will not have any success in Afghanistan. So, consequently if Nato continues to make serious mistakes like that which caused the death of civilians, the people of Afghanistan with not feel the slightest bit safe.

"The aim of this operation is to clear a very difficult part of Helmand Province and keep it clear so people can go about doing all the things that one can in peace and security."

Ten members of the same family were part of a total of 12 civilians who were killed when two rockets missed an intended target - a suspected Taliban compound - on the second day of the mission last Sunday.

Nato's commander in Afghanistan General Stanley McChrystal apologised to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for "this tragic loss of life" and suspended the use of the Himars system pending a thorough review.

Meanwhile tributes have been paid to 25-year-old Lance Sergeant David Greenhalgh of the 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards who was killed last Saturday when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device.

His death comes two months after James Stephen Brown, 18, from Orpington, of the 3rd Battalion, The Rifles, was killed by Taliban suicide bombers.

Colonel Stewart, who served three years as Military Assistant to NATO's Senior Military Officer in Brussels, said: "The killing of 12 civilians is of course a very sad setback which is why General Stanley McChrystal immediately apologised because the whole aim of this operation is to no doubt secure this area of Helmand without hurting civilians. We have learned that if you kill one civilian you turn 10,000 against you.

"The fact of the matter is, the armed forces are using lethal weapons - rockets and guns - and they can make a mistake. You can never have a safe operation and they are trying like heck to get civilians out of the way by warning them about the strikes in the area."

He added: "Now the Brigadier has said that they are not to fire if there is any danger to civilians.

"Some may criticise this move for putting our soldiers at risk but in this respect, it is no different to any operation I have been on - the British army does not shoot innocent people."

Sandhurst-trained Colonel Stewart has turned to politics for the first time after an extensive military service in Northern Ireland and later Bosnia which won him a Distinguished Service Order for gallantry and leadership.

He added: "The situation in Afghanistan has to be winnable. But the British Army doesn't think of winning, it is about achieving success. It is about the people of Afghanistan feeling safe and being able to control the situation. If we can achieve that - it may not be easy but it is achievable - we will have success.

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