YESTERDAY'S announcement that Britain's 8'000 troops in Afghanistan are to come under American operational command from next month will have caused misgivings among many people. An Army's effectiveness is based on many factors but important among them is a clear sense of loyalty to one's regiment and country. There may be some loss of this in the new arrangement but on balance it seems sensible.

British forces have taken the brunt of the battle against the Taliban in the very dangerous Helmand province in southern Afghanistan and 270 of them have died. Under US General McChrystal's new strategic plan there are already 20'000 US troops in the area and more are to come. The senior British officer who fielded press questions on the change in command was justified in suggesting that these comparative numbers showed what a remarkable job the UK forces have done alone in the area in the past four years. Whether he was on such firm ground in claiming that the British “will be doing exactly the same job as we have been doing under slightly different arrangements” remains to be seen.

Behind this change and others in the pipeline is the big question of whether the war against the Taliban can ever be won in a conventional sense. The Taliban may seem to have been beaten but they are essentially guerrillas in character and can reform and return with ease. The next year should give an answer.