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This article assesses the British military effort in Afghanistan looking at three key elements in the campaign: strategy, military operations, and the inter-agency “Comprehensive Approach.” We start by recognising the scale of the challenge that has faced the British: of all the provinces in Afghanistan, Helmand is the toughest to stabilize and secure. We then examine the evolution of all three elements above and find significant improvements in each: a flawed strategy has been corrected; the military have received more resources and become significantly better at COIN; and there is significant progress in the development of the inter-agency approach. In short, what the Americans will find in Helmand is a British COIN machine; a little creaky perhaps, but one that is fit for purpose and getting the job done. We briefly conclude on the prospects and the key to success: namely the development of a more coherent international strategy that accommodates the challenges posed by both Afghanistan and Pakistan.
This is an expanded version of an article published in the RUSI Journal (June 2009). The authors thank Taylor and Francis for permission to publish it in Orbis. Theo Farrell also gratefully acknowledges financial support from the UK Economic and Social Research Council (Grant RES-971-027-0069). Finally, we thank the many British officers and officials who gave us feedback on drafts of this paper.