Part I of a multi-part dossier
Declan Walsh & Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian, 29th Feb 2008:”After six years of US-led military support and billions of pounds in aid, security in Afghanistan is “deteriorating” and President Hamid Karzai’s government controls less than a third of the country, America’s top intelligence official has admitted. Mike McConnell testified in Washington that Karzai controls about 30% of Afghanistan and the Taliban 10%, and the remainder is under tribal control.
A big injection of foreign troops has failed to bring stability. The US has almost 50,000 soldiers in Afghanistan and – twice as many as in 2004 – while the UK has 7,700, mostly in Helmand. Another 2,200 US marines are due to arrive next month to combat an expected Taliban surge.
Nato commanders paint the suicide bombs and ambushes as signs of a disheartened enemy….But analysts believe the Taliban is successfully adapting the brutal guerrilla tactics that have served Iraqi insurgents so well….An Oxfam report yesterday said international and national security forces, as well as warlords, criminals and the Taliban, were perceived by ordinary Afghans as posing security threats .”
Henry MacDonald writing in the Guardian, 16th February 2008: “…Michael Semple, a UN official arrested by the Afghan government on Christmas Day last year, said he was confident that most Taliban-linked insurgents could be absorbed into Afghanistan’s reconciliation process.
In his first interview with a British news organisation since he was forced to leave Afghanistan by the government of President Hamid Karzai, Semple defended his role in talking to elements linked to the Taliban. Until 2003 he had been a senior political adviser to the British embassy in Kabul….’There is no purely military solution to the current insurgency. There isn’t a serious actor in Afghanistan who says the only way forward is to fight your way out’.”
Adrian Hamilton in The Independent, 8th Feb 2008, “As the defence ministers of Nato meet in Vilnius, and Condi Rice and David Miliband descend on Afghanistan as part of their effort to shore up the Nato campaign in the country, someone ought to be asking the question: “What the hell is a North Atlantic alliance doing in a north Asian country at all?”
What might have seemed a relatively straightforward military venture to overthrow a government and rid the country of al-Qa’ida and its protectors, the Taliban, has now taken on a quite different hue. Having forced regime change, Nato is now there as occupiers, charged with not just fighting the resurgent Taliban, but ensuring security, rooting out drugs production and supporting local civilian rulers whom the alliance favours and removing those it disapproves of.
When President Karzai rounded on the British actions in Helmand recently and rejected Britain and America’s candidate for the post of UN representative in Afghanistan, his objections were treated as just the outpouring of a local politician fearful of the loss of his own power. He should have been listened to. What he was saying was that Britain’s intervention to remove the local governor ñ however unpleasant and corrupt he may have been ñ had changed the rules of the game.
If the object of the exercise was to defeat the Taliban, then the Western alliance should have kept with the local chieftains Kabul knew could manage security in a country where central control barely extended beyond the capital. Once we started to intervene in local politics because of the Western desire to suppress the opium trade and to create a ‘clean’ democracy in its own image, and once we decided to impose a UN representative tasked with ordering political governance in the country, then you made the West part of the political game not an umpire of it.
Seamus Milne in The Guardian, 5th February 2008, “Public cynicism towards Britain’s first co-occupation of a Muslim country in the US’s ‘war on terror’ can only be deepened by the Afghan president Hamid Karzai’s public denunciation last month of the British military role in the south – which had, he said, led to the return of the Taliban….Karzai was, after all, installed by the US after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001 and subsequently confirmed in bogus US-orchestrated elections three years later. If even someone regarded as a US-British stooge, whose writ famously barely runs outside Kabul, is reduced to protesting in public that his western protectors are doing more harm than good, that not only makes a mockery of the idea that Afghanistan is an independent state. It also strongly suggests this is a man who recognises that the occupation forces may not be around indefinitely – and he may have to come to more serious terms with the local forces that will.
For all the insistence by Britain’s defence secretary, Des Browne, and others that this is a ‘commitment which could last decades’, there is no doubt that armed resistance to foreign occupation is growing and spreading. Nato forces’ own figures show that attacks on western and Afghan troops were up by almost a third last year, to more than 9,000 ‘significant actions’. And while Nato claims that 70% of incidents took place in the southern Taliban heartlands, the independent Senlis Council thinktank recently estimated that the Taliban now has a permanent presence in 54% of Afghanistan, arguing that ‘the question now appears to be not if the Taliban will return to Kabul, but when’. Meanwhile, US-led coalition air attacks reached 3,572 last year, 20 times the level two years earlier, as more civilians are killed by Nato forces than by the Taliban and suicide bombings climbed to a record 140. The Kabul press last week predicted a major Taliban offensive in the spring.
The intensity of this armed campaign reflects a significant broadening of the Taliban’s base, as it has increasingly become the umbrella for a revived Pashtun nationalism on both sides of the Afghan-Pakistani border, as well as for jihadists and others committed to fighting foreign occupation.
Jerome Starkey in The Independent, 4th Feb 2008, “Britain planned to build a Taliban training camp for 2,000 fighters in southern Afghanistan, as part of a top-secret deal to make them swap sides, intelligence sources in Kabul have revealed. The plans were discovered on a memory stick seized by Afghan secret police in December.
The Afghan government claims they prove British agents were talking to the Taliban without permission from the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, despite Gordon Brown’s pledge that Britain will not negotiate. The Prime Minister told Parliament on 12 December: ‘Our objective is to defeat the insurgency by isolating and eliminating their leaders. We will not enter into any negotiations with these people.’
…The memory stick revealed that $125,000 (£64,000) had been
spent on preparing the camp and a further $200,000 was earmarked to run it in
2008, an Afghan official said. The figures sparked allegations that British
agents were paying the Taliban”.
Simon Jenkins in The Times, 3rd Feb 2008,”Kabul is like Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war. It swarms with refugees and corruption while an upper crust of well-heeled contractors, consultants and NGO groupies careers from party to party in bullet-proof Land Cruisers. Spin doctors fighting a daily battle with the truth have resorted to enemy kill-rates to imply victory, General Westmorelandís ploy in Vietnam.
This is a far cry from Britainís 2001 pledges of opium eradication, gender-awareness and civic-governance classes. After 87 deaths and two years of operations in Helmand, the British Army cannot even secure one dam.
….To have set one of the worldís most ancient and ferocious people on the warpath against both Kabul and Islamabad takes some doing. But western diplomacy has done it. Now must begin the agonising process of escaping that appalling mistake”.
Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 30th January 2008:”The west’s Afghan adventure is now devoid of coherent strategy. Soldiers are dying, the opium trade is booming and aid lies undistributed. Command and control of the war against the Taliban is slipping from the most bizarre western occupying force since the fourth Crusade to a tight cabal around the Afghan ruler, Hamid Karzai, who is fighting to retain a remnant of authority in his own capital…This so-called war on terror has filled the pockets of those profiting from it. It has killed thousands, immiserated millions and infringed the liberty of hundreds of millions. The only rough justice it has delivered is to ruin the careers of those who propagated it.”
Eric Margolis (Canadian journalist) on 28th January 2008:”In Europe and Asia, most people regard the Afghanistan conflict as a 19th century-style colonial war over future oil pipeline routes, and NATOís role there the result of severe arms-twisting by Washington…The [Manley] reportís claim that Afghanistanís US-imposed regime is ‘democraticí is absurd. CIA ‘asset’ Hamid Karzai was installed by Washington and is kept in power by US troops and a stream of cash payoffs to drug-dealing tribal chiefs. His rigged `electioní was supervised by US troops and bought with $100 bills.
Afghanistanís so-called `national armyí is made up of US-paid mercenaries. The ‘army’ does not need more training, as Manley claims. It needs loyalty to a legitimate national government ñ which does not exist.
Half of Afghanistanís population, the Pashtun tribes (the source of the Taliban religious movement), has been largely excluded from political power. Until included, there will be no stability, never mind democracy. But Washington and Ottawa, have painted themselves into a corner by so demonizing Taliban and making enemies of the Pashtun (half of Afghanistanís population), that overt negotiations with the movement or its growing number of allies is impossible.
Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 17th January 2008: “Deepening divisions within Nato over its military operations in Afghanistan emerged yesterday after Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, said America’s allies did not know how to fight insurgencies….However, Gates’s remarks reflect increasing tension and frustration within Nato about how to cope with the Taliban insurgency. Ironically, given the concerns expressed by Gates, British military commanders have accused the US of heavy-handed tactics, including aerial bombing – a tactic which frequently leads to civilian casualties – and have suggested that is the result of America’s lack of experience in counterinsurgency warfare.”
Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times Online, 15th December 2007: ” From December 2006 until now, British Commonwealth Office staff and the British task force stationed in Helmand have tried their level best to make Helmand ‘civilized’. They have opened schools, rebuilt mosques, dug wells, launched programs for capacity building and many other development projects in coordination with tribal elders. But this has not delivered the expected results, as the population remains obsessed to drive out the foreigners”.
From Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 12th December 2007: “Musa Qala has ‘fallen’ to coalition troops and the Mercian Regiment’s nine dead have been remembered at Westminster Abbey. Surely it is time to reassess the British operation in southern Afghanistan… It is now a year and a half since British briefers in Kabul were giving absurdly optimistic forecasts about the ease of suppressing the Taliban…The whole Helmand expedition has from the start been a suicide mission. Since last year, 81 British troops have died and untold numbers been maimed for life. The United Nations calculates that violent incidents have risen by 20-30% since the British took over Nato command, with as many as 5,000 local deaths. The policy of using high-altitude bombers did not cease, despite the pleadings of Afghanistan’s elected ruler, Hamid Karzai, who knows that every bomb recruits 10 Taliban.
This week Musa Qala was attacked with B52s before the Americans and British entered what was left of the town. Who knows how many civilians have died? As the Americans found with Falluja in Iraq, there is no way you can “conquer” an urban settlement unless you intend to colonise it for ever. You can only stun it into temporary submission and long-term antipathy. There is no military solution in Afghanistan, not even a military start to a solution. Can Brown not see this?”
From Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 21st November 2007: “Despite the presence of tens of thousands of Nato-led troops and billions of dollars in aid, the insurgents [in Afghanistan], driven out by the US invasion in 2001, now control ‘vast swaths of unchallenged territory, including rural areas, some district centres, and important road arteries’ …At least 1,200 civilians have been killed so far this year, it [Senlis Council] adds – half in operations by international or Afghan forces. There are four times as many air strikes by international forces in Afghanistan than in Iraq, Oxfam notes.
Matthew Taylor in the Guardian, 17th October 2007: “They [Royal Anglian Regiment] have been involved in serious fighting pretty much constantly,” said Lieutenant Colonel Charlie Mayo, who was based in Afghanistan alongside the Anglian…It is not the only regiment to have suffered heavy casualties, but the homecoming underlined the difficulties British soldiers have faced in the increasingly ferocious fight against the Taliban”.
Jason Burke writing in the Observer, 14th October 2007: “Nato partners such as Germany, the Netherlands and France are tiring of a war that British commanders admit may take ’30 years to win’. British ministers have suggested talking to the Taliban – something President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan has offered to do. Earlier this month he made a personal plea to Mullah Omar to negotiate and stop ‘the destruction of [his] country’.”
From Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 23rd August 2007: “British soldiers in Afghanistan are being supplied with a new “super weapon to attack Taliban fighters more effectively…the ‘enhanced blast’ weapon is based on thermobaric technology used in the powerful bombs dropped by the Russians to obliterate Grozny, the Chechen capital, and in US ‘bunker busters’. Combined heat and pressure kill people over a wide area by sucking the air out of lungs and destroying internal organs….”.
From Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian 21st June 2007: “In one of the bloodiest days since the Taliban was overthrown in 2001, at least 24 people were killed on Sunday by a suspected suicide bomber in the centre of Kabul and at least seven children were killed by US air strikes on a school near the Pakistan border. Yesterday, the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief, Acbar, which represents nearly 100 aid and humanitarian organisations, roundly condemned foreign, particularly US, troops for the ‘disproportionate or indiscriminate use of force’…..
‘We’ve got to stop talking about poppy eradication when British soldiers need the cooperation of Afghans, many of whom are poppy farmers,’ General Sir Mike Jackson, the former head of the army, recently told the independent Iraq Commission inquiry in a swipe at the US. Yet the poppy harvest, allowed to reach record levels, also helps fill the coffers of the Taliban and feeds corruption. Without a huge injection of foreign aid – and there is no evidence that anyone wants to provide it – it may not be long before British commanders start saying:’Let’s get out of Afghanistan as well as Iraq’.”
From Declan Walsh & Richard Norton Taylor in The Guardian, January 2007: “The commandos raced towards the [Jugroom] fort walls, tumbled out of the armoured track vehicles and started the ground assault. But the besieged Taliban fighters proved resilient, and sprayed the Z Company marines with gunfire. Within minutes the British force suffered four casualties, mostly gunshot wounds. The commandos leapt back into their Vikings and retreated to the far bank of the river…”