Whitehall was caught off guard by the seriousness of the situation in Helmand province, where British troops were deployed in Nato’s reconstruction programme. Most Labour ministers supported the view of John Reid, the defence secretary at the time, that “we would be perfectly happy to leave in three years’ time without firing one shot because our mission is to protect the reconstruction”.
Intelligence assessments conducted in southern Afghanistan concluded that they would receive a hostile reception.
isn't actually sourced to either General Richards, who is the ostensible subject of the piece, or to Sandy Gall's book mentioned later in it. Also, the piece contains extensive quotes from Richards that turn out to have been dug out of Gall's book, when a over-rapid look at the piece might give you the impression Coughlin spoke to Richards.
Reid's remark has gone down in the annals of stupidity, but the notion that "most Labour ministers" agreed with him isn't sourced to anyone at all. In fact, the policy was repeatedly re-debated and altered, as I blogged here over the winter of 2005-2006, which doesn't suggest everyone agreed on it. Further, it's news that "intelligence assessments" accurately forecast what would happen - especially as any assessment carried out before the deployment would have been an assessment of the original plan, not the plan as it was radically altered in the field.
I suspect Coughlin is talking the secret services' book here, and they are fighting the real enemy - the uniformed services' Defence Intelligence Staff, which would have been responsible for such an assessment. Further, DIS was notoriously right about Iraq (if you believe Brian Jones' telling) and this is inexcusable to the spooks (who weren't) or Coughlin (who wasn't, and who culpably published their nonsense).
Further, does this quote sound convincing to you? For an American general, he sounds a lot like a British journalist trying to sound tough.
Sir David also recounts a heated argument between Brigadier Ed Butler, the first British commander in Helmand, and an US general who took exception to him. “I nearly punched that damn Limey’s [Butler’s] lights out, he was so arrogant,” the US general said.