Tuesday, April 22, 2008

What some in the British military are thinking about Afstan

Max Hastings knows his stuff and is well-plugged in; reasons to pay attention to this article:
After two years hard fighting in Afghanistan, the British Army is suffering an attack of gloom about the way the war is going.

Soldiers' morale is still high. Nobody is demanding to come home. The cost of acknowledging defeat by the Taliban is too high for the Western alliance to contemplate.

But officers on the ground recognise that present policies are getting nowhere, and unlikely to do so.

It is tough on a good day to put your life on the line. It becomes far more so if you are dodging bullets in pursuit of a strategy which is failing.

When Foreign Secretary David Miliband said on Sunday that there was "no quick solution", most British soldiers heartily endorsed his words. More than 8,000 of our troops are battling with insurgents in the south of the country.

They win almost every clash of arms. But there is precious little sign that the huge effort expended upon killing militants is being matched by political progress, which alone can make sense of the commitment and casualties.

Last night, the Ministry of Defence announced another British soldier had been killed in a bomb blast, taking the UK death toll in Afghanistan to 94 since operations began in the country in 2001...

The second element of Britain's Iraq deployment is the SAS. Its squadrons are badly wanted in Afghanistan.

But the Americans value them too highly to let them go...

It would be hard to get Washington's agreement for the SAS to move to Afghanistan, where the Special Boat Service currently fills the British special forces role.

But the big change in British thinking about Afghanistan concerns its government.

Ever since the fall of the Taliban in 2002, the Americans have pinned their faith for the country's future on Hamid Karzai, the current president.

In Afghanistan, the U.S. - as almost everywhere in the world in its modern history - picked a national leader whom they decided was 'our man', and has stuck with him through thick and thin.

The British, by contrast, now believe that Karzai is a busted flush.

He has lost popular confidence. His government is chronically corrupt. He lacks both will and ability to make his country work, even if NATO can keep the Taliban at bay...

British soldiers and diplomats believe that our military operations can achieve nothing useful as long as a discredited regime rules in Kabul. There is too much corruption, too much opium, not enough Western troops, and the Taliban flourishes just over the border in Pakistan...

Nobody suggests that we should quit, because losing Afghanistan to the Taliban and Al Qaeda would be a military, moral and political disaster for the West.

More British troops are likely to go to Helmand and Kandahar in the months ahead.

A British major-general is likely to take over responsibility for the whole NATO regional command
[emphasis added--more on Brits taking over RC South here].

But no matter how bravely our soldiers fight and how many battles they win, unless reconstruction and law and order start getting somewhere, nothing else can...

The question is whether the West's patience will endure that long, in a dismal conflict which seems so far from home.
More pessimism here:
Forces heading toward 'failure' in Afghanistan
NATO members must convince Pakistan and Afghans of will to guarantee security and safety, U.S. officer says
And some optimism:
Afghans Build an Army, and a Nation


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