As the deadliest year in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion in 2001 comes to a close, Gordon Brown is ready to talk to the Taliban in a major shift in strategy that is likely to cause consternation among hardliners in the White House.
Six years after British troops were first deployed to oust the Taliban regime, the Prime Minister believes the time has come to open a dialogue in the hope of moving from military action to consensus-building among the tribal leaders. Since 1 January, more than 6,200 people have been killed in violence related to the insurgency, including 40 British soldiers. In total, 86 British troops have died. The latest casualty was Sergeant Lee Johnson, whose vehicle hit a mine before the fall of Taliban-held town of Musa Qala.
The Cabinet yesterday approved a three-pronged plan that Mr Brown will outline for security to be provided by Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) and the Afghan national army, followed by economic and political development in Afghanistan.
But the intention to engage Taliban leaders in a constructive dialogue, which Mr Brown will make clear in a parliamentary statement today, will be by far the most controversial element of the plan. A senior Downing Street source confirmed the move last night and one Brown aide who accompanied the Prime Minister on his recent visit to Kabul, said: “We need to ask who are we fighting? Do we need to fight them? Can we be talking to them?” [complete article]
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates sharply criticized NATO countries yesterday for not supplying urgently needed trainers, helicopters and infantry for Afghanistan as violence escalates there, vowing not to let the alliance “off the hook.”
Gates called for overhauling the alliance’s Afghan strategy over the next three to five years, shifting NATO’s focus from primarily one of rebuilding to one of waging “a classic counterinsurgency” against a resurgent Taliban and growing influx of al-Qaeda fighters.
“I am not ready to let NATO off the hook in Afghanistan at this point,” Gates told the House Armed Services Committee. Ticking off a list of vital requirements — about 3,500 more military trainers, 20 helicopters and three infantry battalions — Gates voiced “frustration” at “our allies not being able to step up to the plate.” [complete article]