Afghanistan ‘is lost’

Posted in Afghanistan, Britain, British army, Canada, War by Deputy city editor on October 25, 2007

While the MoD continues plans to prepare to deploy the entire Parachute regiment in Hellmand province next year with Eurofighter jets (!) and even the new Merlin helicopter, cooler heads are noting an inconvenient truth. We have already lost. Let us review the evidence:

Karzai’s government is corrupt, inept, and controls only Kabul, on a good day, with the help of foreign soldiers.

Pakistan is a bigger mess than ever.

Poppy production is setting records.

The fighting this year produced terrible casualties amongst the fighters of both sides, for no apparent lasting military gain. The best idea the generals have is to do it all over again, in 2008.

There are also terrible civilian casualties. But we hardly know because it is not safe for journalists to operate in the combat zone.

There is essentially no civil reconstruction work because it is too dangerous.

The coalition of the willing has evaporated and nobody but the Americans, British (and maybe for not much longer) the Canadians are willing to engage in much actual fighting.

All this adds up to either, boldly (a) we have already lost or, more cautiously but not really so different (b) we have not won and are not winning.

Paddy Ashdown, who has been a soldier, politician and nation builder (in Kosovo) may very well reflect feeling inside Gordon Brown’s government, as it faces up to the realities of Blair’s war in Afghanistan.

He says in today’s Telegraph: “We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely.”

This is an extremely welcome note of seriousness and realism amodst the prevailing groupthink of one more heave.

A sad and confused leading article in the Telegraph is deaf to Lord Ashdown. It accuses him of traducing our brave soldiers (he never did). And then reverts to the trope that it is all the fault of our NATO so-called allies. The reason why our allies are not shoulder to shoulder with us is because they know Lord Ashdown is right and the current strategy is a failure.

Briefings that we could be in Afghanistan “for decades” suggest that some of the poppy is making its way to opium dens in Whitehall.

Summary of October Chatham House report on Afghanistan. Full report is available here.

  • Western forces’ success in fighting the Taliban and Al-Qaeda and in achieving a satisfactory level of security throughout Afghanistan remains limited. The lack of success results from the coalition’s failure to develop and implement jointly a coherent strategy for Afghanistan that integrates counter-insurgency, counterterrorism and stability and reconstruction operations.
  • The coalition’s internal cohesion regarding the development of the Afghanistan operation is becoming increasingly fragile. The willingness to share risks has become a key issue. National caveats are increasingly disputed. Not all NATO member states are prepared to send their forces into combat. This puts the fundamental principle of alliance solidarity on the line.
  • The coalition forces’ comprehensive approach towards stability and reconstruction operations remains an elusive concept on the ground in Afghanistan. The consensus is that civil-military cooperation has to become an instrumental part of the Afghan operation, but it remains an unresolved issue how this could be translated into operational practice.
  • The conflict has increasingly become a regional one. Taliban bases in Pakistan cannot be targeted by coalition forces; however, logistical and armament supplies out of Pakistan are significant, and Pakistan is used as a recruitment base. As long as parts of Pakistan serve as a safe haven for the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, coalition forces will not be able to control Afghanistan.

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