NATO in Afghanistan- Can we afford to fail?
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The British establishment are terrified- not like the American of failure in Iraq- failure there is now widely accepted- but of failure within Afghanistan. On 11th July the House of Lords debated the Government's policy in Afghanistan and dire warnings were made by various learned lords who are experts in the field. Now it appears from an Observer article
today that many of those present were giving the government indications of the opinion of the higher officers within the General Staff who beleive that the NATO effort in Afghanistan is failing and cannot for the security of the world be allowed to fail- Afghanistan is a war which the General Staff informed the new Prime Minister we are losing and we cannot afford to lose.
The debate in the Lords as recorded in Hansard was terrifying to anyone interested in the state of the world. Two speakers in particular who have long experience of military matters spoke in dire terms about what is happening in Afghanistan- its worth digesting what they said because they spoke from experience and also because one of them seems to represent the views of the UK military.
Lord Inge was formerly head of the British army and also chief of the defence staff- it has now been revealed to the Observer that Inge was speaking for the officers of thre army when he made his statement to the Lords on July 11th so its worth paying attention to what he said. Essentially Inge made the point that NATO is waging a war for hearts and minds within Afghanistan and that it is losing this war. Inge argued that essentially there is a division within Afghanistan of political direction- the NGOs and government agencies concerned with aid are divided from the military infrastructure and furthermore the military structure is internally divided. The situation he warned peers was much more serious than anyone in the UK preoccupied with Iraq envisaged at the moment.
In Iraq it is often said that we cannot cut and run- well the same may be even more true in Afghanistan. Lord Ashdown formerly high representative in Bosnia from the United Nations- had his own speech commended by Lord Inge. Lord Ashdown has served not merely as high representative running a successful peacekeeping operation- but also served in the British army and in its elite special forces. Ashdown highlighted in particular the way that US forces are being commanded- from out of area command in Washington not by NATO and the he suggested that at the moment like Lord Inge that the division of command was a real strategic issue.
Lord Ashdown though went further in delineating the consequences- what would happen to Pakistan should Afghanistan fall- if Pakistan fell into the hands of Islamic militants the consequences would be terrible indeed- a nuclear war with India would become terrifyingly close to a reality. Furthermore what the ratchet effects on other Muslim regimes of a falling Pakistan would be are hard to calculate- suddenly nightmares about a Sunni Shiite war throughout central asia seem less like visions and more like reasonable predictions. The knock on effects in terms of nuclear proliferation might well be too terrible to contemplate.
As the Lords discussed any attempt to deal with the issues in Afghanistan must involve dealing with the opium crop- if you destroy a people's livelihood it is difficult to persuade them to begin to support you. The Earl of Sandwich proposed sensibly that the opium crop be bought up for medical usage- one wonders whether fighting the war on drugs as well as the war on terrorism might be too much at one time and whether the Earl's suggestion may in the end be the way forwards- but we will have to see.
The British Government and hopefully the American Government ought to listen- when people with the experience and intelligence of Lords Ashdown and Inge make warnings like this, then it must be time for Washington and London to pay attention. The minister present Lord Malloch Brown may be excused for not making much of a response- the poor man has only arrived in office- but it is time for the United States and United Kingdom to sit down and have a serious think about Afghanistan- indeed more than Iraq- we may afterall not be able to rescue Iraq, but it may be possible to rescue Afghanistan.
And the consequences of not doing so to paraphrase Condi Rice may make an unrealised opportunity into a mushroom cloud.
LATER It should be noted that Michael Ledeen, that well known accurate prophet of Middle Eastern politics, disagrees- apparantly the only people who don't think Iraq and Afghanistan are succeeding are surrender monkeys
like the former British Chief of the Defence Staff- that well known wimp!