Monday, October 6, 2008

British General Says "No Decisive Victory" in Afghanistan

Both Presidential campaigns accuse the other of misrepresenting where we are in the war in Afghanistan. If you ask Mark Carleton-Smith, both are correct.

Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith is not a lone wolf. He commanded the 16 Air Assault Brigade in Southern Afghanistan. Over thirty of his men were killed in combat. He reported that the sting had been taken out of this year's Taleban offensive before going on to make the unambiguous point that taking the sting out of a seasonal offensive was not the same thing as a victory, and furthermore, that he did not believe there would ever be a war-ending, decisive victory over the Taleban. He said it was time to negotiate. He softened the blow by suggesting that if our enemies were willing to sit down and resolve issues short of violence we should see this as a good thing. Fair enough, when you put it like that. I don't know where that leaves the hunt for Bin Laden or Zawahiri, but it certainly doesn't sound like progress.

This assessment is, of course, in stark contrast to what our commanders and politicians are saying. The Guardian UK reported that Abdul Rahim Wardak, the Defence Minister for Afghanistan, openly disagrees with the British position. Perhaps because there are contested reports that some in Nato are looking for an acceptable dictator to take over before a 2010 pull-out.

All of this flows from a report in the French Newspaper Le Canard Enchaîné, in which the British Ambasador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was reported as saying that the military situation was at a stalemate, that the American strategy was "destined to fail," and that foreign troops of any nationality only added to Afghanistan's problems. There is also said to be exasperation among British commanders and diplomats at the level of corruption in Hamid Karzai's government. They are not keeping these opinions to themselves.

The Guardian puts it this way: "The message is being delivered with increasing urgency by British military commanders, diplomats and intelligence officers, to Nato allies and governments in the region . . ." One wonders what our commanders and diplomats say if they are in the same room.

After hearing Obama and McCain, Biden and Palin, stand behind podiums and tell the American people that we will win, the disconnect with our allies is troubling.

Quoted in The TimesOnline, the leaked Cowper-Coles memo has some advice for them:
“In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan . . . The American strategy is doomed to fail.”

For those who like to see a French hand in all our troubles abroad, fear not, The TimesOnline assures us there is one: "The pessimistic view in the cable is common among French diplomats and military officers who are concerned by President Sarkozy’s strong support for the Nato operation in Afghanistan and his recent reinforcement of the French contingent. There was suspicion in Whitehall that the British position was exaggerated for French purposes."

Let it never be said that Hamid Karzai doesn't know when to make the right noises: after ruling out talks with insurgents, he has beseeched the King of Saudi Arabia to mediate between his government and the Taleban. An interesting move, especially when one considers that the Saudi Royal Family is in a life and death struggle with radical Islamists itself. Progress on that front is unclear at the time of this posting.

(Thank you wikimedia for the flag of Afghanistan)