We Can’t Defeat Taleban, Says Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith

October 9th, 2008 - by admin

Tom Coghlan and Michael Evans, Defence Editor / The London Times – 2008-10-09 08:27:33


KABUL (October 6, 2008) — 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.

The brigadier’s grim prognosis follows a leaked cable by François Fitou, the deputy French Ambassador in Kabul, claiming that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the British Ambassador, had told him the strategy for Afghanistan was “doomed to failure”.

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.”

Brigadier Carleton-Smith admitted that it had been “a turbulent summer” but he said that the Taleban were “riven with deep fissures and fractures”.

He added: “However, the Taleban, tactically, is reasonably resilient, certainly quite dangerous and seems relatively impervious to losses. Its potency is as a force for influence.”

He indicated that the only way forward was to find a political solution that would include the Taleban. The Government of President Karzai has launched a reconciliation programme, although the hard core of Taleban commanders is thought to be implacably opposed to any compromise. Efforts are being focused on the so-called “tier-two” and “tier-three” Taleban, who are perceived to be less ideologically intransigent.

The brigadier said that in the areas where the Government had no control, the Afghan population was “vulnerable to a shifting coalition of Taleban, mad mullahs and marauding militias”. In other areas, however, progress was being made and children were going back to school. “We are trying to deliver sufficient security for a degree of normalisation,” he said.

The British commander said that more foreign trainers were needed to help to build up the competence of the Afghan National Army. He suggested that they would be provided by the Americans. He said that there had been a government vacuum for 30 years, and even now the central Government in Kabul did not view Helmand as a key province. He said that in some areas the Afghan people were now beginning to shift their allegiance towards traditional power structures “rather than the shadowy and illegal structures” of the Taleban and the warlords.

U.S. says Afghan war comments “defeatist”
Jonathon Burch and Kristin Roberts / Reuters

KABUL (October 7, 2008) — Britain’s military commander and ambassador in Afghanistan are being “defeatist” by thinking the war cannot be won, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said, as Washington seeks more troops for the conflict that started exactly seven years ago.

The comments by the officials from Britain, a key ally to the United States in Afghanistan and Iraq, were echoed by the top United Nations official in Kabul, who said success was only possible through dialogue and other political efforts.

After the invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 to oust the fundamentalist Taliban government in the wake of the September 11 attacks on the United States, security has deteriorated markedly over the past two years.

“While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run,” Gates said on Monday on his way to Europe to meet defense ministers.

Washington is reviewing its Afghan strategy in a similar way to the 2006 reappraisal of its Iraq policy that led to a “surge” of 30,000 troops and helped pull the country back from the brink of civil war.

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 switched sides to fight the insurgency and al Qaeda.

“What we have seen in Iraq applies in Afghanistan,” 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.”

Talk of negotiating with the Taliban also featured in the comments by the British commander and the U.N. official.

“What we need most of all is a political surge, more political energy,” Kai Eide, the U.N. special envoy to Afghanistan, told a news conference on Monday. “We all know that we cannot win it militarily. It has to be won through political means. That means political engagement.”


The Taliban have repeatedly rejected the idea of talks unless all 70,000 foreign troops leave the country.

“As we said before, as long as the invader forces are in Afghanistan, we won’t participate in any negotiations,” Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousuf told the Pakistan-based Afghan news agency, AIP.

He also denied reports that negotiations had taken place between the Taliban and the Afghan government in Saudi Arabia.

The British commander, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, told the Sunday Times the war against the Taliban could not be won and that the goal was to shrink the insurgency so it was no longer a strategic threat and could be dealt with by the Afghan army.

If the Taliban were willing to talk, he said, that might be “precisely the sort of progress” needed to end the insurgency.

Britain’s ambassador to Kabul, Sherard Cowper-Coles, saw an “acceptable dictator” as the best solution, with a troop surge only creating more targets for the Taliban, according to parts of a diplomatic cable published in a French newspaper.

In another sign of shifting opinion, Germany said it will no longer provide troops from its KSK special forces to support U.S.-led counterterrorism missions in Afghanistan.

The U.S. general commanding NATO forces in the country said last month he needed three more brigades — possibly around 15,000 troops — on top of an extra 4,000 soldiers due to arrive in January.

Faced with reluctance of some of its European allies to send more troops, Washington has asked Japan and NATO countries to help foot the $17-billion bill to build up the Afghan army.

The Afghan Defense Ministry says the cost of one foreign soldier in Afghanistan is equal to more than 60 Afghan troops.

Washington’s review of its Afghanistan policy has been characterized as a serious study of current thinking. But U.S. officials concede it will probably yield only recommendations for the next president — either Republican John McCain or Democrat Barack Obama — who will take office in January.

(Kristin Roberts reported from a U.S. military aircraft)

(Writing by John O’Callaghan; Editing by Chris Wilson)

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