The Guardian & CBC News & Granma & AP – 2006-11-18 09:09:44
UN Chief: NATO Cannot Defeat Taliban by Force
Declan Walsh in Kabul and Richard Norton-Taylor Guardian
KABUL (November 18, 2006) — NATO “cannot win” the fight against the Taliban alone and will have to train Afghan forces to do the job, the UN’s top official in the country warned yesterday.
“At the moment NATO has a very optimistic assessment. They think they can win the war,” warned Tom Koenigs, the diplomat heading the UN mission in Afghanistan. “But there is no quick fix.”
In forthright comments which highlight divisions between international partners as NATO battles to quell insurgency, Mr. Koenigs said that training the fledgling Afghan national army to defeat the Taliban was crucial. “They [the ANA] can win. But against an insurgency like that, international troops cannot win.”
He spoke to the Guardian as Tony Blair came the closest so far to admitting the invasion of Iraq had been disastrous.
When Sir David Frost, interviewing the prime minister for al-Jazeera TV, suggested that western intervention in Iraq had “so far been pretty much of a disaster”, Mr. Blair responded: “It has. But, you see, what I say to people is, ‘why is it difficult in Iraq?’ It’s not difficult because of some accident in planning, it’s difficult because there’s a deliberate strategy – al Qaida with Sunni insurgents on one hand, Iranian-backed elements with Shia militias on the other – to create a situation in which the will of the majority for peace is displaced by the will of the minority for war.”
Downing Street tried to play down the apparent slip last night. A spokesman said: “I think that’s just the way in which he answers questions. His views on Iraq are documented in hundreds of places, and that [the belief that it is a disaster] is not one of them.”
However, Sir Menzies Campbell, leader of the Lib Dems, commented: “At long last, the enormity of the decision to take military action against Iraq is being accepted by the prime minister. Surely parliament and the British people who were given a flawed prospectus are entitled to an apology?”
British commanders have argued that UK troops should be withdrawn from Iraq to allow the military to focus on Afghanistan. But NATO commanders on the ground have pleaded for 2,000 more troops, helicopters and armored vehicles, to little effect. Last night NATO secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said countries should lift restrictions on what their troops could do.” My plea to governments would be: ‘Please help us in lifting those caveats as much as possible … because in Afghanistan it is a problem.”
Des Browne, the defense secretary, made clear yesterday that the future of the alliance was now bound up with the future of Afghanistan. “The Afghan people, our own people and the Taliban are watching us. If we are indecisive or divided, the Taliban will be strengthened, just as all of the others despair,” he said.
Attacks have increased fourfold this year and 3,700 people have died, mostly in the south. The US has made 2,000 air strikes since June, against 88 in Iraq.
Last week Acbar, an umbrella group of Afghan and international aid agencies, said the crisis highlighted the “urgent need” for a rethink of military, poverty-reduction and state-building policies.
NATO commanders maintain the Taliban have been on the “back foot” since Operation Medusa, a battle which killed more than 1,000 insurgents in Kandahar in September, and talk of gaining “psycho logical ascendancy”. However, Mr. Koenigs said any claim of victory was premature. “You can’t resolve it by killing the Taliban. You have to win people over. That is done with good governance, decent police, diplomacy with Pakistan, and development,” he said.
Otherwise the Taliban would regroup in Pakistani refugee camps and madrasas and return in greater numbers next spring.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2006
NATO Troops Kill 2 Afghan Civilians in Speeding Van
(November 16, 2006) — NATO troops shot at a speeding van on Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, killing two Afghan civilians and injuring a child, NATO officials said Thursday.
A van drove near a patrol of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force at high speed in the Helmand province in south central Afghanistan and did not stop when troops gave hand signals to the driver to do so, according to ISAF officials.
The officials said the patrol then fired upon the vehicle and the two adult occupants inside were killed. Medical staff treated the injured and they were taken to nearby medical facilities.
ISAF officials said the incident will be investigated. They said they do not know why the vehicle failed to stop.
ISAF, a coalition of forces from about 37 countries, has a mandate from the United Nations to provide security and stability in Afghanistan to help the country rebuild itself after decades of war.
15 NATO Troops Killed in Afghanistan
KABUL (October 23, 2006) — An insurgency attack on a military convoy in Zabul, southern Afghanistan, left 15 dead and two wounded, according to NATO. The attack came after Talibans prepared an ambush for a column of NATO troops deployed there to control the prevailing insurgency in that part of the country, PL reports.
The provinces of Helmand, Kandahar, Uruzgan, Day Kundo, Nimroz and Zabul are areas of constant violence and Operation Medusa, initiated last July, has been unable to deal with insurgency attacks in those regions.
Last Sunday, at the end of the month of Ramadan, the Muslim leader Mullah Omar demanded the withdrawal of NATO while announcing that actions against foreign and Afghan troops are to be stepped up.
Peter Inge, former UK chief of general staff, warned this week of the possibility of a military failure in Afghanistan and described the occupation as suffering from a evident lack of strategy.
At Least 60 Civilians Killed in NATO Operation
(October 26, 2006) — NATO operations in Afghanistan’s volatile south left dozens of Afghan civilians dead earlier this week, according to Afghan government officials and a village resident.
Bismallah Afghanmal, a provincial council member, told the Associated Press an estimated 80 to 85 civilians were killed in the operation, while Karim Jan, a villager, said 60 to 70 civilians died. Another government official, who declined to give his name, told the Associated Press that at least 60 civilians were killed.
In the House of Commons on Thursday, NDP Leader Jack Layton seized on the report as more evidence of the government’s mishandling of the Afghan mission. “With only one dollar going to aid for every nine dollars going to the combat effort, is it any wonder that civilian deaths and starvation are on the rise, while security and stability are on the decline?” asked Layton.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was not in the House of Commons, but parliamentary secretary Jason Kenney took exception to Layton’s claims.
“I think it’s regrettable that the leader of the NDP constantly diminishes the tremendous work being done by our aid workers in Afghanistan,” said Kenney, while contending that Canada was sending more aid money to Afghanistan than it ever has to any country.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said late Wednesday that its forces killed 48 militants in the Panjwaii district of Kandahar province on Tuesday. ISAF said it had “credible reports” of civilian casualties in the fighting, but was aware of only four civilians wounded.
Maj. Luke Knittig, a ISAF spokesman, said NATO forces used mortar and artillery backed by air support against militants who were trying to undermine efforts to stabilize the area for reconstruction.
Knittig said there were three clashes between insurgents and NATO forces west of Kandahar city, with troops using “precision strikes” against insurgents. “Very sadly, civilians continue to get caught up in these engagements, with tragic results,” he said. Knittig said the Afghan Defence Ministry is planning to investigate the reports of civilian deaths.
According to Afghanmal, Taliban militants in the area sought shelter in homes owned by civilians, and NATO forces targeted the homes. “The government and the coalition told the families that there are no Taliban in the area anymore,” Afghanmal said. “If there are no Taliban, then why are they bombing the area?”
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged NATO to exercise caution during its operations to avoid civilian deaths and injuries.
In September, NATO conducted a military operation known as Operation Medusa, led by Canadian troops, that it said led to the deaths of 500 suspected militants in two districts, including the Panjwaii, west of Kandahar. NATO deemed the operation a success. Since then, 10 Canadian soldiers have been killed in bombings and attacks by Taliban fighters.
Canada has more than 2,000 troops in southern Afghanistan, the majority in Kandahar, as part of the NATO force in the country. Forty-two Canadian soldiers have died since Canada first sent troops to Afghanistan in early 2002.
With files from the Associated Press
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