Afghanistan – pride and prejudice – Part VII [to 30th June 2010]

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Part VII of an eight part dossier

Simon Jenkins in The Guardian, 29th June: “We can only wonder how far the rumoured skepticism of the intelligence services towards the Afghanistan operation has been adequately conveyed to ministers. There is scant public evidence of it. To have been party to one dud war is bad enough, but two would be more than careless.”

John Sparrow in the Observer, 27th June: “Coalition forces in Afghanistan should open talks with the Taliban ‘pretty soon’ as part of a future exit strategy, the head of the army said today.”

Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 25th June 2010: “Major General Gordon Messenger, the Ministry of Defence’s chief military spokesman, said Taliban-led insurgents were resorting to what he described as an ‘increasing use of single shots at range’. British officers said it would be misleading to describe the shots as coming from snipers, a word suggesting the use of sophisticated rifles by well-trained fighters.”

Ahmed Rashid in the Financial Times, 25th June 2010: “…the US-Nato strategy in southern Afghanistan has barely made a dent in the Taliban’s resistance, which is spreading across the country. Nato’s offensive in Marjah, in Helmand, is five months old and still has not secured he area. The anticipated surge to secure Kandahar province has been postponed due to the Taliban’s penetration of the region”.
Source: FT, 25th June 2010

Michael Clarke, writing for RUSI 24th June 2010: “The British Coalition government repeats the commitment to make Afghanistan its most immediate security priority, but the whispers at Westminster are becoming more audible; ‘should we face a disaster now by pulling out of Afghanistan, or a catastrophe later by staying in?’ Is it winnable now in any meaningful sense?”

The fact is that for all the wider strategic reasons the UK entered this conflict – its interests in supporting US actions, in addressing a deteriorating security situation in the region, in counter-terrorism, NATO credibility, and western resolve in the face of an outright challenge – it will be US actions that largely determine the range of UK choices.

Robert Fox in The Guardian, 20th June 2010: “The slow progress in Sangin had fuelled the growing sense of doubt in British public opinion ñ and the same doubts are growing in the US. The suspicion is that UK and US forces might have ended up fighting the wrong war in the wrong place at the wrong time. Initially, British and international troops went to Afghanistan to rid the place of al-Qaida following 9/11 and the Taliban regime that were their hosts. Slowly it has drifted into a de facto occupation in many parts of the country…

Jon Boone in The Guardian, 20th June 2010: “Scores of British troops have been killed in Sangin since Tony Blair, egged on by overconfident British generals, dispatched more than 3,000 service men and women to Helmand in 2006.”

Declan Walsh & Jon Boone in The Guardian, 22nd June 2010: “Britain’s special envoy to Afghanistan, known for his skepticism about the western war effort and his support for peace talks with the Taliban, has stepped down just a month before a critical international conference in Kabul. Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has taken ‘extended leave’, a spokesman for the British high commission in Islamabad said today. He has been replaced on a temporary basis by Karen Pierce, the Foreign Office director for South Asia and Afghanistan.
News of his sudden departure comes as the Ministry of Defence confirmed the 300th British fatality in Afghanistan, a widely anticipated yet grim milestone in the nine-year war.

Marc Townsend in The Observer, 20th June 2010: “Barrett, a former British intelligence agent, confirmed that ‘a lot of talk’ was building up over the possibility of the coalition supporting negotiations with the Taliban’s upper hierarchy, including elements within the Quetta Shura, the arm of the Taliban which is directing the insurgency. ”

Deborah Haynes et al in The Times, 9th June 2010: “…a two-month investigation by The Times, which includes interviews with 32 senior military, political and Civil Service figures, reveals that there was deep disquiet over the handling of the mission from the start. Top ranks within the Ministry of Defence and other Whitehall departments are accused of: grossly underestimating the threat from the Taleban…offering only the military advice they thought ministers wanted to hear…

Another source, in government at the time, said that the military was pushing hard for the mission despite warnings that preparations were inadequate. ‘The advice to ministers grossly underestimated the risks,’ he said. ‘The few people who were doubters were either too cowardly or too cautious to say what they really thought.’

Major-General Andrew Mackay, a former commander of British troops in the province who has left the Army, accused the military of being too acquiescent in rolling over to political bidding.”
Guardian editorial, 3rd June 2010: “The fact is that for the second time in recent memory, an American force has taken over command from a British one that has bitten off more than it can chew. The parallels with Basra’s painful memories are real. In both cases, a British force went in undermanned, under-equipped, and blithely under-informed. In both theatres of war, British troops fanned out into the hinterland, only to find themselves pinned back in their bases.”
Denis MacShane in the Observer, 31st May 2010: “Every six months, a new commander is sent from London to head the fighting soldiers in Afghanistan. These brigadiers rotate, so that, instead of fighting one six-year war, we have fought 12 six-month wars, so that future red tabs can punch their tickets. The can-do, will-do power-point style of the British army impresses politicians, and every visiting minister and journalist is in awe of these tough, sun-burnt, dedicated professionals. It is hard to say that they and their generals are wrong, but the time has come to put parliament and elected ministers in charge. The pro-war tabloids say they are backing our boys. They are not: they are backing the generals. Officers and men ready to criticise the campaign have no voice….We have done our duty. It is time to come home.” MacShane
Robert Fisk speaking at the fifth Al Jazeera annual forum on 23rd May 2010 “…. How many times have I heard western reporters talking about ‘foreign fighters’ in Afghanistan? They are referring, of course, to the various Arab groups supposedly helping the Taliban. We heard the same story from Iraq. Saudis, Jordanians, Palestinian, Chechen fighters, of course. The generals called them ‘foreign fighters’. And then immediately we western reporters did the same. Calling them ‘foreign fighters’ meant they were an invading force. But not once – ever – have I heard a mainstream western television station refer to the fact that there are at least 150,000 ‘foreign fighters’ in Afghanistan. And that most of them, ladies and gentlemen, are in American or other Nato uniforms!

Similarly, the pernicious phrase ‘Af-Pak’ – as racist as it is politically dishonest – is now used by reporters when it originally was a creation of the US state department, on the day that Richard Holbrooke was appointed special US representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan. But the phrase avoided the use of the word ‘India’ whose influence in Afghanistan and whose presence in Afghanistan, is a vital part of the story. Furthermore, ‘Af-Pak’ – by deleting India – effectively deleted the whole Kashmir crisis from the conflict in south-east Asia. It thus deprived Pakistan of any say in US local policy on Kashmir – after all, Holbrooke was made the ‘Af-Pak’ envoy, specifically forbidden from discussing Kashmir. Thus the phrase ‘Af-Pak’, which totally deletes the tragedy of Kashmir – too many ‘competing narratives’, perhaps? – means that when we journalists use the same phrase, ‘Af-Pak’, which was surely created for us journalists, we are doing the state department’s work.”
Jonathan Owen in the Independent on Sunday, 23rd May 2010: “British soldiers in Afghanistan are ‘horribly over-extended’ and being killed for ‘no good reason’, a senior military figure admitted last night. He said talks are now under way with US commanders that would pave the way for Britain to begin scaling down its commitment to the war, bringing about a change of emphasis in its deployment.

Britain’s 10,000-strong force is suffering ‘appalling’ casualty rates and is set to be given a break from the worst of the fighting, according to the source.”
David Swanson in, 12th May 2010: “A strong case can be made that the war in Afghanistan is illegal, immoral, against the public will, counterproductive on its own terms, and an economic catastrophe. The present path of escalation there appears militarily hopeless. The most recent Pentagon assessment once again indicates that the Taliban’s strength is growing; according to polling, 94% of the inhabitants of Kandahar, the area where the next US offensive is to take place this summer, want peace negotiations, not war, and a US plan to seek local consent for the coming assault has been scrapped.”
Hilary Andersson, BBC News, 11th May 2010: “The US airbase at Bagram in Afghanistan contains a facility for detainees that is distinct from its main prison, the Red Cross has confirmed to the BBC. Nine former prisoners have told the BBC that they were held in a separate building, and subjected to abuse….In response to these allegations, Vice Adm Robert Harward, in charge of US detentions in Afghanistan, denied the existence of such a facility or abuses.”
Jon Boone in The Guardian, 10th May 2010: “A recent public opinion survey in Kandahar conducted for the US army found that despite their efforts to remain above the fray, most of the 1,994 people questioned sympathised with the insurgents’ reasons for taking up arms against the government. Some 94% of respondents did not want foreign forces to start a new operation.

The US has already stepped up its secret war against the Taliban: special forces teams have been killing and capturing mid-level commanders and apparently squeezing the insurgents’ supply chains.”
Jonathan Steele in The Guardian, 4th May 2010 “Eight years after they were overthrown by US air power, a drumbeat is starting to sound across Afghanistan in favour of talking to the Taliban, the country’s once-hated former rulers. An idea that used to seem absurd, if not defeatist, is coming to be seen as the only credible way to end an ever-widening war. Moreover, the proposed agenda of negotiations is not a Taliban surrender, but an offer to share power in Kabul.”
Gareth Porter in, 4th May 2010: “General Stanley McChrystal and the United States-North Atlantic Treaty organization (NATO) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) joint command now acknowledge officially that the Taliban insurgents dominate a vast contiguous zone of heavily populated territory across southern Afghanistan that McChrystal regards as the most critical area in the country.

The report admits that the population in key districts across most southern provinces is sympathetic to or supportive of the insurgents.

The contiguous zone of Taliban political power stretches all the way across the 13 provinces from Farah province in the far west of the country through Helmand and Kandahar to Wardak, Logar, Paktia and Khost provinces west and south of Kabul….A report by The Guardian’s Jon Boone last week quoted a recent British visitor to Sangin as remarking on the ‘intense hatred of people who hate everything you stand for’ he had felt from people there.”
Daily Telegraph, 29th April 2010: “…The [Pentagon] report says that much of the country was either neutral to the government or otherwise supportive of the Taliban insurgency….Popular anger at Karzai’s government, which is widely seen as corrupt and inefficient, has allowed the Taliban to ‘perceive 2009 as their most successful year,’ the Pentagon report said…. ”
Richard Norton-Taylor in The Guardian, 22nd April 2010: “…Contingency plans include the possible wholesale withdrawal of the 9,500 British troops from Helmand …But the removal of British forces from the province, where commanders say they have built strong relations with local governors and tribal elders, will not be popular with UK defence chiefs. …’A large amount of British blood and treasure has been invested in Helmand,’ another official said.

A survey today of more than 2,000 defence analysts conducted by the Royal United Services Institute showed just 57% agreed that current operations in Afghanistan played ‘an intrinsic part in maintaining the UK’s security’…

Nato commanders, meanwhile, are far from confident about the long-term success of Operation Moshtarak, designed to clear the Taliban out of central Helmand, in particular the district of Marjah”
Jon Boone in The Guardian, 22nd April 2010: “The people of Sangin blame inter-tribal fighting and the drug trade for the dire security situation, but also hold the foreign soldiers responsible for the chaos.

According to two farmers currently staying in Lashkar Gah who were contacted by the Guardian but did not want to be named, the behaviour of the British is by the far the biggest problem.

One said: ‘The Taliban do not even have a bakery that they can give bread to the people, but still most people support the Taliban ñ that’s because people are sick of night raids and being treated badly by the foreigners’.”
Robert Dreyfuss in, 14th April 2010: “Twelve days before President Hamid Karzai denounced the behavior of Western countries in Afghanistan, he met a 4-year-old boy at the Tarin Kowt civilian hospital in the south. The boy had lost his legs in a February airstrike by U.S. Special Operations forces helicopters that killed more than 20 civilians. Karzai scooped him up from his mattress and walked out to the hospital courtyard, according to three witnesses. ‘Who injured you?’ the president asked as helicopters passed overhead. The boy, crying alongside his relatives, pointed at the sky.

The tears and rage Karzai encountered in that hospital in Uruzgan province lingered with him, according to several aides. It was one provocation amid a string of recent political disappointments that they said has helped fuel the president’s emotional outpouring against the West and prompted a brief crisis in his relations with the United States. It was also a reminder that civilian casualties in Afghanistan have political reverberations far beyond the sites of the killings’.”
Peter Dale Scott in History News Network, 12th April 2010: “The first reality is that the extent of CIA involvement in and responsibility for the global drug traffic is a topic off limits for serious questioning in policy circles, electoral campaigns, and the mainstream media. Those who have challenged this taboo, like the journalist Gary Webb, have often seen their careers destroyed in consequence….CIA involvement in the drug trade hardly began with its involvement in the Soviet-Afghan war. To a certain degree, the CIA’s responsibility for the present dominant role of Afghanistan in the global heroin traffic merely replicated what had happened earlier in Burma, Thailand, and Laos between the late 1940s and the 1970s…”
BBC News, 12th April 2010: “At least four civilians were killed and 18 others wounded when Nato forces fired at a bus in southern Kandahar province, sparking angry protests.
Nato expressed its ‘deep regret’ over the incident and said forces treated the injured at the scene. Crowds gathered in Kandahar shouting slogans and burning tyres. President Hamid Karzai also condemned the firing.
Civilian deaths at Nato hands is the source of increasing friction between the Afghan government and Nato.”
Glen Greenwald in, 5th April 2010: “On February 12 of this year, U.S. forces entered a village in the Paktia Province in Afghanistan and, after surrounding a home where a celebration of a new birth was taking place, shot dead two male civilians (government officials) who exited the house in order to inquire why they had been surrounded. The Pentagon then issued a statement claiming that (a) the dead were all ‘insurgents’ or terrorists, (b) the bodies of three women had been found bound and gagged inside the home (including two pregnant women, one a mother of 10 children and the other a mother of six children, and a teenage girl), and (c) suggested that the women had already been killed by the time the U.S. had arrived, likely the victim of ‘honor killings’ by the Taliban militants killed in the attack.

Although numerous witnesses on the scene as well as local investigators vehemently disputed the Pentagon’s version, and insisted that all of the dead (including the women) were civilians and were killed by U.S. forces, the American media largely adopted the Pentagon’s version, often without any questions. But enough evidence has now emerged disproving those claims such that the Pentagon was forced yesterday to admit that their original version was totally false and that it was U.S. troops who killed the women….

All of this is a chronic problem, not an isolated one, with war reporting generally and events in Afghanistan specifically…
At the Nieman Watchdog Foundation, Jeremy Starkey, the Afghanistan war reporter for The Times of London, has a crucial, must-read piece on all of this…. he also recounts how NATO tries to intimidate, censor and punish any reporters like him who report adversely on official claims. Illustratively, in response to Starkey’s March 13 article detailing what really happened at Paktia and the cover-up that ensued, NATO issued a formal statement naming him and insisting that this article was ‘categorically false.’ As recently as mid-March, NATO was still claiming — falsely — that the women in Paktia were killed prior to the arrival of American troops.”
Mail on Sunday, 4th April 2010: “German soldiers travelling to the scene of a deadly firefight with Taliban insurgents accidentally killed six Afghan troops, the Afghan military said today.
The soldiers had been rushing from Kunduz in the north of the country to the scene of the fighting on Friday afternoon when they encountered two civilian vehicles.
They demanded they stop but the vehicles kept moving so a German armoured personnel carrier opened fire on them.

The vehicles were later found to have been transporting Afghan troops and an investigation is pending.”

BBC report, 1st April 2010: “Afghan President Hamid Karzai has accused foreign election observers of fraud during last year’s disputed vote. Fraud had been widespread, Mr Karzai conceded, but he blamed foreigners for it, saying the UN was its focal point. ”
Miles Amoore and David Leppard in the Sunday Times, 21st March 2010: “The British Army is facing allegations that at least 10 Taliban suspects were beaten and given electric shocks after being handed over to local security forces in Afghanistan.

The Afghan detainees have told British investigators that they were also whipped with cables and suffered sleep deprivation in prisons in Kabul and Sangin in the southern province of Helmand.”
Pratap Chatterjee in Asia Times Online, 19th March 2010: “Mike Furlong, a top Pentagon official, is alleged to have run a covert network of contractors to supply information for drone strikes and assassinations in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the United States government…Another company that Furlong subcontracted was Boston-based American International Security Corporation (AISC), a company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret turned private investigator who was accused in a 1995 lawsuit by Massachusetts state trooper Robert Monahan of helping drug traffickers by providing phony Greek passports and even arranging a jailbreak in Florida…”
David Lindorff in, 18th March 2010: “Three months after it initially lied about the murder by US forces of eight high school students and a 12-year-old shepherd boy in Afghanistan, and a month after it lied about the slaughter by US forces of an Afghan police commander, a government prosecutor, two of their pregnant wives and a teenage daughter, the US military has been forced to admit (thanks in no small part to the excellent investigative reporting of Jerome Starkey of the London Times), that these and other atrocities were the work of American Special Forces, working in conjunction with ‘specially trained'(by the US) units of the Afghan Army….”
Miles Amoore in the Sunday Times, 14th March 2010: “Intelligence agencies such as the CIA fall outside the control of the military. Human rights activists point to a lack of accountability currently enjoyed by the CIA, whose role in Afghanistan involves commanding militias that conduct some of the raids. ”
Julian Borger in The Guardian, 10th March 2010: “Britain will today urge the Afghan government to put more effort into the pursuit of peace talks amid fears that the war could be prolonged ñ and more British lives lost ñ as a result of incompetence and lack of political will in Kabul.”
Gareth Porter in, 9th March 2010: “For weeks, the U.S. public followed the biggest offensive of the Afghanistan War against what it was told was a ‘city of 80,000 people’ as well as the logistical hub of the Taliban in that part of Helmand. That idea was a central element in the overall impression built up in February that Marja was a major strategic objective, more important than other district centers in Helmand.

It turns out, however, that the picture of Marja presented by military officials and obediently reported by major news media is one of the clearest and most dramatic pieces of misinformation of the entire war, apparently aimed at hyping the offensive as a historic turning point in the conflict. Marja is not a city or even a real town….The Washington Post reported Feb. 22 that the decision to launch the offensive against Marja was intended largely to impress U.S. public opinion with the effectiveness of the U.S. military in Afghanistan by showing that it could achieve a ‘large and loud victory.’

The false impression that Marja was a significant city was an essential part of that message.”
David Lindorff in, 4th March 2010: “Today’s war in Afghanistan also has its My Lai massacres. It has them almost weekly, as US warplanes bomb wedding parties, or homes “suspected” of housing terrorists that turn out to house nothing but civilians. But these My Lais are all conveniently labeled accidents. They get filed away and forgotten as the inevitable ‘collateral damage’ of war. There was, however, a massacre recently that was not a ‘mistake’–a massacre which, while it only involved fewer than a dozen innocent people, bears the same stench as My Lai. It was the execution-style slaying of eight handcuffed students, aged 11-18, and a 12-year-old neighboring shepherd boy who had been visiting the others, in Kunar Province, on Dec. 26….Under the Geneva Conventions, it is a war crime to execute a captive. Yet in Kunar on December 26, US-led forces, or perhaps US soldiers or contract mercenaries, cold-bloodily executed nine hand-cuffed prisoners. It is a war crime to kill children under the age of 15, yet in this incident a boy of 11 and a boy of 12 were handcuffed as captured combatants and executed. Two others of the dead were 12 and a third was 15. These are capital offenses under the Geneva Conventions, to which the US is a signatory. So is covering up the crime, all the way up the chain of command.”
Peter Bergen and Katherine Tiedemann of New America Foundation, 24th Feb 2010: “Our study shows that the 114 reported drone strikes in northwest Pakistan, including 18 in 2010, from 2004 to the present have killed approximately between 834 and 1,216 individuals, of whom around 549 to 849 were described as militants in reliable press accounts, about two-thirds of the total on average. Thus, the true civilian fatality rate since 2004 according to our analysis is approximately 32 percent.”
Jerome Starkey in the Times, 25th Feb 2010: “A night-time raid in eastern Afghanistan in which eight schoolboys from one family were killed was carried out on the basis of faulty intelligence and should never have been authorised, a Times investigation has found.

Ten children and teenagers died when troops stormed a remote mountain compound near the border with Pakistan in December.

At the time, Nato claimed that the assault force was targeting a ‘known insurgent group responsible for a series of violent attacks’. Officials said that the victims were involved in making and smuggling improvised explosive devices. But Western sources close to the case now agree that the victims were all aged 12 to 18 and were not involved in insurgent activity.”
Ben Anderson & Tom Coghlan in The Times, 24th Feb: “But it is the Talebanís use of snipers ó the first time Western forces have faced such skilled sharpshooters ó that is causing greater concern. The discovery of Nato issue ammunition on the battlefield has also raised fears that the Taleban may have gained access to weaponry now being used against the alliance.”
Charles Fromm in Asiatimes online, 22nd Feb 2010: “Amid growing European discontent over the war in Afghanistan, the head of United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces apologized on Monday for an air strike that killed at least 27 civilians in the central part of the country on Sunday….The political implications of the attack, which, according to some reports was carried out by helicopter-borne US Special Operations Forces (SOF), could be serious, not just in Afghanistan itself but also in Europe and Canada, were electorates have become increasingly opposed to their militaries’ involvement in the war.

This is especially true in the Netherlands, whose government collapsed on Saturday amid negotiations on whether to keep troops in Afghanistan. The air strike took place in a district controlled by the Dutch army, whose role, if any, in the attack has yet to be clarified.

The attack was carried out on the apparently mistaken belief that a convoy of vehicles was transporting Taliban fighters toward eastern Helmand province, where US and allied forces have launched a major offensive.”
James Meikle et al, 15th Feb 2010: “Earlier today, the head of Britain’s armed forces admitted that the killing of 12 Afghan civilians yesterday was ‘a very serious setback’ to military operations against the Taliban.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup said the incident had damaged efforts to win the support of local communities, but added that accidents were inevitable during conflict.

The civilians died when two rockets from a high mobility artillery rocket system hit a house on the outskirts of the town of Marjah, in an area of Helmand province being targeted by a joint US and Afghan force.”
Leader in The Independent on Sunday, 14th Feb 2010: “Indeed, everything about the selling of Operation Moshtarak adds to our doubts about the wisdom of the strategy…the offensive seems to be designed for ready consumption by the US media.”
Pratap Chatterjee in Asia Times online, 9th Feb 2010: “Like President Barack Obama today, Nixon had come to power promising stability in an age of unrest and with a vague plan to bringing peace to a nation at war….In recent years, many commentators and pundits have resorted to ‘the Vietnam analogy’, comparing first the American war in Iraq and now in Afghanistan to the Vietnam War…A more provocative – and perhaps more ominous – analogy today might be between the CIA’s escalating drone war in the contemporary Pakistani tribal borderlands and Nixon’s secret bombing campaign against the Cambodian equivalent.”
Syed Saleem Shahzad in Asia Times Online, 9th Feb 2010: “In the early days of the conflict, the Americans were not interested in any form of reconciliation with the Taliban as the regime had been toppled in a matter of months and its leaders were holed up in the mountains straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan: Washington had no reason to talk to such losers.

Nine years on, the situation has changed dramatically. The American war machine is under siege and huge swathes of Afghanistan are either under direct Taliban control or heavily influenced by the militants. …”
Rob Evans and Richard Norton-Taylor, 7th Feb 2010 The Observer, “British forces are relying increasingly on unmanned drones to attack targets in Afghanistan, mirroring controversial tactics used by the US….Chris Cole, director of the interfaith peace campaign Fellowship of Reconciliation, who used freedom of information legislation to shed light on the Reapers, said: ‘Drones are the latest in a long line of new weapons used in the mistaken belief that they will provide a clean and tidy solution to a conflict ñ time and again history has proved that this is a myth.’

He added:’We have a number of serious concerns not least because there is a picture beginning to emerge of high civilian casualties. In addition, the use of armed drones to target specific individuals could amount to summary or arbitrary execution’.

Philip Alston, a UN human rights special rapporteur, warned in October that the US use of drones to kill militants in Afghanistan and Pakistan may violate international law. He called on the US to explain the legal basis for killing individuals with its drones
Indrani Bhagchi in BDOpensourcemonitor, 6th Feb 2010: “Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan, threw out two Britons ñ Michael Semple and Mervyn Patterson- for allegedly bribing Taliban leaders in Musa Qala, Helmand, where British troops were fighting ñ not always to advantage.

Karzai, apparently enraged that the British were paying off the Taliban behind his back and demanding that these “leaders” be accommodated in the Afghan government, refused to comply, and in the face of British displeasure, expelled them.

Semple, said security officials in Afghanistan, is probably best described as the Afghanistan-Taliban brains trust for the UK’s MI6, its external intelligence arm. In a re-run of the 19th Century ‘Great Game’ adventurers, Semple has been a prime advocate of ‘reintegration’ and ‘reconciliation’ with the Taliban as a key strategy to win the war in Afghanistan.

His background is equally interesting ñ Semple’s father was a general in the British army and his wife Yamima’s father, General Mirdha, a buddy of former Pakistani president Yahya Khan, putting him on an inside track to military-intelligence decision makers in Pakistan. The idea of wooing over softer Taliban leaders and quelling Pashtun anger isn’t new or novel….”
Jason Ditz in, 2nd Feb 2010: “Though there have surely been single strikes which netted a much larger death toll, like the June attack on a South Waziristan funeral, the United States today launched the single largest coordinated drone attack against a target inside Pakistan today….In the attack, at least nine of the unmanned warplanes fired some 18 missiles against the tiny village of Deegan, in Datta Khel, killing at least 17 people and injuring numerous others. The toll is expected to rise as the attacks, which hit multiple homes, left many people buried in rubble around the village.”
Simon Tisdall in The Guardian, 29th Jan 2010: “The regional approach, coupled with the emphasis on Afghan self-reliance in security matters, a progressive reconciliation and reintegration process, and ongoing financial, developmental and institutional assistance, is the way Britain and the US hope finally, and in the not too distant future, to extract their legions. Like past empires, they have learned the hard way that nobody wins in Afghanistan. London confirmed the best they now hope for is an orderly and honourable retreat, scattering alms as they leave.”
Julian Borger in The Guardian, 28th Jan 2010: “Taliban commanders held secret exploratory talks with a United Nations special envoy this month to discuss peace terms, it emerged tonight.”
Seamus Milne in The Guardian, 28th Jan 2010: “Eight years on, far from being swept from the scene, the Taliban controls much of the country, al-Qaida has spread across the region, the war is ?escalating, thousands of civilians are being killed, corruption is rampant and the position of many women, according to women’s leaders such as the MP Malalai Joya, is actually worse under Nato-warlord rule than under the Taliban.

Having failed to subdue Afghanistan militarily or achieve any credibility for the US and Nato-installed Hamid Karzai, the London conference is supposed to endorse their plan B. That can be summed up as: talk to the Taliban and buy them off wherever possible. The one-time boasts of destroying the Taliban or capturing its leader, Mullah Omar, alive or dead, are long gone.”
Jon Boone in The Guardian, 28th Jan 2010: “It was meant to be a routine patrol. But when a group of 28 American paratroopers and Afghan soldiers found themselves pinned down by the Taliban it almost ended in a bloodbath… is places like Bala Murghab, in a supposedly more secure corner of the country, that expose the immense difficulties the country has ahead of it in building self-reliant ?security forces and persuading a new breed of increasingly competent Taliban fighters to lay down their arms.

‘They are far more accurate in their firing here than in Helmand,’ said Jason Holland, squad leader of the patrol. ‘In Helmand we had more air coverage and indirect fire. We were never pinned down like we were yesterday’.”
Mark Landler & Helene Cooper in the New York Times, 26th Jan 2010: “On Thursday, donor countries, led by the United States, Britain and Japan, are expected to commit $100 million a year to an Afghan fund for reintegrating the foot soldiers of the Taliban with jobs, cash and other inducements….’Today, people agree that part of the solution for Afghanistan is going to include an accommodation with the Taliban, even above low- and middle-level fighters,’ said an administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he was discussing internal deliberations.

…At the same time, the senior American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, said recently that he could eventually envision a role for some Taliban officials in Afghanistan’s political establishment.”
Ahmed Rashid in The Guardian, 26th Jan 2010: “Thus the next few months could offer a critical opportunity to persuade the Taliban that this is the best time to negotiate a settlement, because they are at their strongest. Talking to the Taliban requires more than just secret co-operation among intelligence agencies, or the CIA handing out bribes to Taliban commanders to change sides ñ as it did with the Northern Alliance in 2001. …There are a number of steps that should be taken before talking to the Taliban…. First, convince Afghanistan’s neighbours and other countries in the region to sign on to a reconciliation strategy with the Taliban, to be led by the Afghan government. Second, allow Afghanistan to submit to the UN security council a request that the names of Taliban ?leaders be removed from a list of ?terrorists drawn up in 2001 ñ so long as those leaders renounce violence and ties to al-Qaida….Third, pass a security council resolution giving the Afghan government a formal mandate to negotiate with the Taliban ñ and allow the US, Nato, and the UN to encourage that process. ”
Mark Tran in The Guardian, 25th Jan 2010: “Robert Gates, the US defence secretary, last week also held out the possibility of a deal with the Taliban when he described them as part of Afghanistan’s ‘political fabric’.”
Elisabeth Bullimer in the New York Times, 22nd Jan 2010: “The United States recognizes that the Taliban are now part of the political fabric of Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said here on Friday, but the group must be prepared to play a legitimate role before it can reconcile with the Afghan government.”
Editorial, The Independent, 19th Jan 2010: “A formidable Afghan adversary – The attack by the Taliban on the heart o government territory in Afganistan is strategically significant ….what the timing of this well-planned and coordinated assault shows is that the Taliban are a group with a long-term political plan rather than just a fractious coalition of warlords bent on defending their patch. It underscores the extent to which this hard-line Islamic movement has regrouped and, despite ever-higher number of foreign troops, have steadily extended their influence”.
Richard Norton-Taylor in the Guardian, 15th Jan 2010: “British officials are now proposing that a co-ordinated international initiative, described by some as a kind of trust fund, should be set up as a key objective of the London conference on Afghanistan on 28 January. The move reflects a growing realisation in London, Washington and throughout Nato that the conflict cannot be ‘won’ in any military sense and that some kind of accommodation with the Taliban insurgency is inevitable.”
President Karzai reported by Press TV, 8th Jan 2010: “Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai says he does not need anymore ‘the favor’ of the US-led foreign forces in his war-weary country. ‘If these forces are coming only to chase the Taliban at the cost of Afghan civilians, of course that’s not going to produce any good consequences for us…’.”
Juan Cole in CommonDreams, “You probably won’t see it in most US news outlets, but on Monday morning in Kabul and Jalalabad, hundreds of university students demonstrated against US strikes this weekend that allegedly killed a number of civilians….First, the US military launched a raid in Kunar Province two days after Christmas on a village a night, in which President Hamid Karzai alleged that 10 civilians, some 8 of them schoolchildren, had been killed (some say dragged out of their beds and executed). The NYT reported the head of a Kabul delegation to the village saying,”They gathered eight school students from two compounds and put them in one room and shot them with small arms.” (The spokesman is a former governor of Kunar and now a close adviser to President Hamid Karzai– i.e. not exactly a pro-Taliban source). The charitable theory is that in a nighttime raid, US troops got disoriented and hit the wrong group of young men.

The outraged Afghan public saw this raid as an atrocity, and on Wednesday December 30, they mounted street protests against the US in Jalalabad, an eastern Pashtun city, and Kabul. In Jalalabad, hundreds of university students blocked the main roads, and then marched in the streets, chanting ‘Death to Obama’ and ‘Death to America,’ and burning Obama in effigy…

Even while the protests were taking place in Jalalabad and Kabul, a NATO missile strike on the outskirts of Lashkar Gah in Helmand Province was alleged to have killed as many as 7 more civilians, some of them children. Now the Afghan public was really angry….”
Gary Yonge in the Observer, 3rd Jan 2010: “Casting the escalation of the Afghanistan war as a central front in the war on terror is a potent illustration of how this delusion has continued. Al-Qaida is now more likely to be found in Pakistan, an American ally, than in Afghanistan and the latest threat came via Yemen. Terrorism is a strategy, not a place ñ attempts to carpet-bomb it or occupy it or conquer it will inevitably fail.”

Earlier parts of this dossier