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Afghanistan attack casts spotlight on west's partnership plans
« on: November 04, 2009, 08:10:52 PM »
Afghanistan attack casts spotlight on west's partnership plans

Richard Norton-Taylor, Wednesday 4 November 2009 19.50 GMT Article history
British soldiers in Upper Sangin Valley in Afghanistan. Photograph: Rupert Frere/AP

The shooting dead of five British soldiers by a policeman in Helmand province has struck at the heart of the government's "new strategy" for Afghanistan.

Concerned about growing opposition to Britain's military presence in Afghanistan, underlined by Kim Howells, a former Foreign Office minister, in today's Guardian, the cabinet and defence chiefs are pinning their hopes on training, mentoring, and even partnering the Afghan national police force and army in operations.

That, they say, is the key to an exit strategy. Bill Rammell, the armed forces minister, admitted as muchtoday when he said that building up Afghan forces was the right component of a new strategy since "we do not want to be there for ever". That is why ministers were saying todaythat the training and mentoring programme remained essential so that Afghan forces "one day can take responsibility for the security of their country", as Gordon Brown put it.

Defence officials also said the attack would not deflect them. "It will not throw the strategy into doubt," said one who was also quick to admit that there was "a long way to go" before the training programme was completed.

Independent analysts were less sanguine. Gareth Price, head of the Asia programme at the thinktank, Chatham House said: "There is a bunch of least worst options none of which is sure of success. Public opinion is turning against the war and that is something new." He said there was growing distrust among Afghans in their government and the strategy of foreign governments

Ian Kearns, senior fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, added: "You can't win a counter insurgency if the government is illegitimate and corrupt.

"Either we need to figure out how the government in Kabul can be less corrupt and more legitimate or we should conduct a counter terrorist strategy, a denial of space strategy, rather than full nation building."

Reflecting in part what Joe Biden, the US vice-president has been counselling, Kearns said: "But we cannot withdraw and cease operations completely.

"The threat to the UK from al-Qaida in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region is real and we must continue to do what is necessary to contain it.

"A change of strategy might mean reducing troop numbers, and relying more on special forces and air power to attack terrorist camps and training bases."

British commanders have been warning for some time about how the Afghan police force is riddled with corruption, with officers both consumers of and dealers in drugs. The added danger now is that Afghan forces are being infiltrated by the Taliban who have claimed responsibility for the attack.

If this turns out to have been a planned attack it is another worrying indication the Taliban are ahead of the game.

Ministers in Britain and the government in Kabul promised to introduce better vetting procedures. But the consensustoday was that is easier said than done, especially when the emphasis of US and UK policy is on recruiting tens of thousands of Afghan police and soldiers over the next 12 months.

Peter Galbraith, who left his post as deputy head of the UN mission in Afghanistan amid disagreements over the presidential elections, said the rushed effort to train extra officers for the elections meant such deaths were to be expected.