American troops in Afghanistan. How long must the USA be mired in a war in a country that outfought Imperial Britain of the Raj and the USSR? The US is doing no better, it may be doing worse…
US Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, en route to Europe to attend a regional defence conference in Macedonia, dismissed comments by Western European officials about the war in Afghanistan as “defeatist”. “While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan”, he told newsmen ahead of his arrival in Europe, “there is no reason to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run”. Britain’s military commander and ambassador in Afghanistan are being “defeatist” by thinking the war cannot be won, Mr Gates said, as Washington seeks more troops for the conflict that started exactly seven years ago.
These comments coming from official sources in Britain, a key ally to the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, were matched by the top United Nations official in Kabul, who said success was only possible through dialogue and other political effort. Security has deteriorated markedly over the past two years after the invasion of Afghanistan on 7 October 2001 to oust the Taliban government in the wake of the 11 September attacks on the United States. Whilst Mr Gates acknowledged significant challenges in Afghanistan, he stressed there is no reason to be “defeatist”. Washington is currently reviewing its Afghan strategy in a similar way to the 2006 reappraisal of its Iraq policy that led to a “surge” of 30,000 additional US troops that helped stave off civil war in the country.
In a new policy shift, Mr Gates said part of the solution in Afghanistan would be negotiating with members of the Taliban willing to work with the government in Kabul. He compared that to reconciliation efforts in Iraq, where tribal leaders have been persuaded to switch sides to fight the insurgency and al Qaeda. “What we have seen in Iraq”, he told newsmen, “applies in Afghanistan”, Mr Gates said of the possibility of peace talks with the Taliban. “Part of the solution is strengthening the Afghan security forces. Part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghan government”. The trouble with the latter part of that statement is that the Taliban have repeatedly rejected the idea of talks unless all 70,000 foreign troops leave the country.
In another sign of shifting opinion, Germany said it will no longer provide troops from its special forces to support US-led counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan, while the US general commanding NATO forces in the country said last month he needed three more brigades, around 15,000 troops, on top of an extra 4,000 soldiers due to arrive in January. The review of Washington’s Afghan policy currently underway is most likely to yield only recommendations rather than serious policy decisions in an election year. Furthermore, it will be up to the next president, either John McCain or Barack Obama, to act when either of them takes office in January.
8 October 2008
Voice of Russia World Service