The departing commander of British forces in Afghanistan says he believes the Taleban will never be defeated.
Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, the commander of 16 Air Assault Brigade, whose troops have suffered severe casualties after six months of tough fighting, will hand over to 3 Commando Brigade Royal Marines this month.
He told The Times that in his opinion, a military victory over the Taleban was “neither feasible nor supportable”.
“What we need is sufficient troops to contain the insurgency to a level where it is not a strategic threat to the longevity of the elected Government,” he said.
The brigadier said that his troops had “taken the sting out of the Taleban” during clashes in Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, but at a heavy cost. His brigade suffered 32 killed and 170 injured during its six-month tour of duty. The 2nd Battalion the Parachute Regiment alone lost 11 soldiers, most of them killed by roadside bombs or other explosive devices.
Now I'm sure there are those among our readers who expect me to deny the brigadier's assertion (and I'd point out his is an informed assertion). But I am not going to do that.
I think he has a point. As I've tried to point out, Afghanistan is a very different war than Iraq.
Militarily, that doesn't mean the principles of counter-insurgency are null and void. Of course they're not. But the situation on the ground is very different than the situation we found in Iraq. Consequently their application in Afghanistan is going to have to be different as well.
However, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith is saying much the same thing that was said about Iraq. There isn't going to be a "military victory" in Afghanistan. We aren't going to meet the Taliban on some distant battlefield, decisively defeat them militarily and end the war.
Instead, just as we found in Iraq, we need a combination of coordinated efforts on different fronts to defeat the enemy. While the military effort is critical, the diplomatic effort is probably even more critical. A weak and corrupt central government dooms any effort there to failure. No matter how many troops we have there or how well we protect the citizenry, unless we're willing to do that into perpetuity, we'll never leave Afghanistan and its government will never be able to take charge of their own destiny.
In addition, because the Taliban has been able to find a home in Pakistan and is an integral part of the tribal structure there, they are a completely different enemy than we faced in Iraq. While some insurgent organizations in Iraq received support from neighboring Iran, the insurgents were indigenous Iraqis (Arabs v Persians). In the case of the Taliban, they're members of tribal entities which span the borders of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Thus they move pretty freely across the border and are supported by the tribes to which they belong.
Pakistan, then, is key to helping us in defeating, or at least controlling, the Taliban.
So the brigadier is right - while the military is critical to Afghanistan's current survival, there is much more that must be brought into play to ensure it in the future.
In the cable, Mr Fitou told President Sarkozy that Sir Sherard believed “the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption and the Government has lost all trust”. He said Sir Sherard had told him Britain had no alternative but to support the US, “but we should tell them that we want to be part of a winning strategy, not a losing one. The American strategy is doomed to fail.”
I'm not so sure it is "the American strategy" (hard to claim when NATO has the military reins). But there has to be a much more concerted effort in the other areas I mentioned. Diplomacy, which includes a heavy effort from our State Department, as well as similar efforts from our NATO allies are key. As long as we're only talking about "military victory" there, we'll never see an improvement in the situation there.
While some insurgent organizations in Iraq received support from neighboring Iran, the insurgents were indigenous Iraqis (Arabs and Persians).
Do you have a citation for that statement? From what I know, it can best be called a gross simplification. There were largely foreign groups and largely Iraqi groups. The Shiites were largely Iraqis being supplied by Iran. The Sunni Iraqi groups had a mix of local militias and largely foreign insurgents groups. One of the reasons the Anbar Awakening went the way it did, was that the locals saw the foreign insurgents as worse than the US.
Sen. Bob Kerry speaks before unanimous Senate passage of the Iraq Liberation Act — Oct. 7, 1998:
“This bill, when passed and signed into law, is a clear commitment to a U.S. policy replacing the Saddam Hussein regime and replacing it with a transition to democracy. This bill is a statement that America refuses to coexist with a regime which has used chemical weapons on its own citizens and on neighboring countries, which has invaded its neighbors twice without provocation, which has still not accounted for its atrocities committed in Kuwait, which has fired ballistic missiles into the cities of three of its neighbors, which is attempting to develop nuclear and biological weapons, and which has brutalized and terrorized its own citizens for thirty years. I don’t see how any democratic country could accept the existence of such a regime, but this bill says America will not. I will be an even prouder American when the refusal, and commitment to materially help the Iraqi resistance, are U.S. policy.”