A British soldier working with the Afghan National Army criticised the men he worked with yesterday, accusing them of poor discipline, drug taking and a reluctance to fight.

Another UK soldier said some of the ANA were very young, while others had difficulty persuading the Afghans not to open fire at the first sign of trouble.

But a number of British soldiers defended the Afghan military, insisting they were keen to learn and had shown instances of extreme bravery.

The ANA operating in Helmand province is still in its very early stages and is being trained by Operation Mentoring Liaison Teams (OMLTs) from the British Army.

Despite their fledgling status, Afghan soldiers have been deployed to many of the major flash points in northern Helmand and have witnessed some of the most vicious fighting.

Sergeant Michael Elgie, aged 28, from the Army Air Corps which is based in Middle Wallop, Hampshire, was in Sangin with ten ANA soldiers in July when they were repeatedly attacked.

The company, which was sent to the area for two weeks, was eventually joined by a British infantry platoon who helped defeat the enemy.

When asked what he thought of the ANA he replied: "They were not particularly good.

"We had contact one day so I was firing back and there were no rounds going down the range. I looked to my left and right and they were in the bottom of the wadi, crawling for cover."

Sgt Elgie, who is now based back at the OMLT in Camp Tombstone near Camp Bastion, said the Afghans he was with were not interested in being soldiers. "They did not like to go on patrol and they were trying to extort money from people," he said.

The situation got so bad at one point that his relationship with them broke down completely: "One guy threatened to shoot me. We had no powers to discipline them."

Other British soldiers told of the ANA's tendency to fire indiscriminately and too quickly.

Captain Toby Smart, aged 28, from the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Duke of Wellington), said the soldiers were a "mixed bag" of accuracy and skill with the gun.

"Some of them are very good and some of them are a washout," he said. "They are certainly enthusiastic, they want to train and they want to do better."

Cpt Smart, from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, said about 40 per cent had had some military experience, working for warlords or the Mujaheddin.

The officer, who is leaving the army after Afghanistan to follow a career in shipbroking, spent two months in Nawzad, guarding the police station with three other British soldiers and 20 ANA colleagues.