Sunday, October 12, 2008

What About Afghanistan?

News from Scotland's Sunday Herald. I read Afghanistan is a war that can be won if the carrot and stick balance is right wondering what light it might cast on McCain and Obama.

Of course, it is doing no such thing. Carleton-Smith was simply stating the obvious: that no war of this kind can ever be won by military tactics alone. As has become blindingly clear over the past couple of years, Nato ground forces will always get the better of the Taliban in a square-go - well, at least they will if they are American, British, Canadian or Dutch, who provide the bulk of the frontline troops.

For all that Taliban fighters display fortitude, endurance and undoubted personal courage, those virtues are no protection against high-velocity weapons and air power. That's why they have returned to tactics which are a mixture of terrorism and guerrilla warfare and that's why the brigadier, the ambassador and the defence secretary were right to voice their concerns.

It now seems all too possible that Afghanistan could become a war without limits and that it could quite easily equal Operation Banner, the British Army's deployment in Northern Ireland between 1969 and 2007. No-one wants that. It would be time-consuming and become increasingly unpopular not just within Nato but also in Afghanistan itself. And it might soon become fiscally impossible to bail out the banks at home while propping up Afghanistan away from home.

This is not a policy of despair. Far from it, I have always maintained that Afghanistan is not a lost cause but a cause that is waiting to be won. And it is eminently winnable if the correct approach is taken. In common with every other counter-insurgency war that was ever fought, there has to be a political dimension to the campaign and that's why it's good to hear that lines of communication have been opened with the Taliban. For the past fortnight, in conditions of utmost secrecy, Afghan negotiators led by Qayum Karzai, brother of the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, have been in Saudi Arabia where they have been talking to their Taliban counterparts.

Already the discussions have borne some fruit, with the Taliban agreeing to end indiscriminate attacks on humanitarian aid convoys and to give some consideration to the possibility of breaking off their links with al-Qaeda terrorist groups. Small though those concessions are, they do represent a breakthrough of sorts. With presidential elections due next year it would be better to have the Taliban inside the big tent than causing mayhem outside it.

Some other interesting points but this was the main one.

My conclusion: Obama has a better grasp on Afghanistan than McCain. Odd that a naval officer has so little interest in history - or respect for it.

And words to remember from another time:
When you're wounded and left on Afghanistan's plains,
And the women come out to cut up what remains,
Jest roll to your rifle and blow out your brains
An' go to your Gawd like a soldier.
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
Go, go, go like a soldier,
So-oldier ~of~ the Queen!

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