Its been a failure in UK planning for decades that shortfalls, or equipment angles can be played out in the way that someone else fills a void. Hence the point about Afganistan. Did we have buffoons in whitehall? Off course. But you need to understand that while british men and women die, 3000 helicopters exist in NATO allied Europe alone. The Americans are doing all the lifting because they are left with little choice, and are frequently shafted by their 'friends' just as we are. NATO today is meaningless and is filled with people who want the benefits of it, but not the costs. Its time some of those were actually told to bugger off.
To be clear, its not a British OP. Its an ISAF/NATO OP, and trying to pretend that shortfalls of equipment are a british shortfall are flat out wrong. The overall mission is NATO, and the contribution of the NATO alliance is supposed to fulfill the obligation. And in that OP, we are contributing 'enough' for our part that a shortage of helicopters is a pathetic outcome from others who shirk their load and responsibility.
Now, I know of notables who do fight, the dutch, the danes, the brits. And I'm not going to name the ones who don't, because they should leave the alliance.
As for the British assumtion on mixed forces that fulfil missions around a lower cost idea, we've assumed for far too long that others will help us out. However, operations across the globe continue to provide clear evidence that when Britain is in the crapper and is fighting, in too many cases that strategic idea falls down totally. It does not matter what op you care to pull up, wether its serbia, iraq, afganistan, the falklands.
If the assumption is that somehow - in a handful of years - the falklands or any similar operation could be run with - oh lets say for the sake of argument, France would provide Frigs and Cruisers to protect our now exposed carriers. No. Very doubtful.
Now, as to the Navy being useful in Afganistan. No, off course its not. I never said it was. But its a global issue. We don't spend enough on defense, and we have a misunderstanding that others will stand and fight with us and hold their share of a burden, when that is not true. Afganistan applied to the naval issue is the same.
These two carriers are either going to be overly exposed, and thus will be useless and kept back in case they are lost, or they will be exposed badly and plausably sunk - because everyone thinks someone else is going to protect them while they do our work.
Carriers, and thus carrier battle groups have to be able to take on whole states. When sat off someone coast, you better be able to. And alone these carriers are going to be badly exposed and a magnet for troubles.