|More power to Afghan warlords
By Richard M Bennett
The current military situation on the ground in Afghanistan is at best a highly
unsatisfactory stalemate, at worst the allied forces are actually losing the
If that were allowed to continue then the Western democracies face being
decisively defeated, politically if not militarily, by the Taliban.
There has always been the potential of a political backlash against years of
conflict bringing increasing numbers of casualties, but with little sign of a
clear victory for all the sacrifices being made.
This fear must now haunt the White House in the United States
and Britain's Downing Street.
When the recent crop of moralizing Western leaders once again apparently based
foreign policy on outmoded and deeply flawed beliefs - particularly when
combating the threat of religious extremists whose beliefs were still based in
a medieval world - disaster was assured.
Further complicating the allied response to Islamic extremism is the growing
belief among many seasoned observers that the main Western intelligence
services have been seriously degraded, despite a vast increase in budgets and a
continuing infusion of extra personnel.
With so many of the senior management of the US and British intelligence
communities appearing at times to lack even basic competence, with tactics that
were unimaginative in the extreme and who are now so obviously steeped in a
risk avoidance culture, it seems to many observers that any remaining chance of
long-term success in the "war on terror" must have been largely lost by
However, it is perfectly arguable that the means of defeating the Taliban has
been available throughout the long, bitter and costly campaign waged by the
Western allies in Afghanistan.
This opportunity has been ignored and buried under an absurd combination of
over-respect for human rights, a respect not reciprocated by either al-Qaeda or
the Taliban; the unjustified diplomatic wish to avoid further alienating Iran
and Pakistan; as well as a profound reluctance to face reality and accept that
current policies have simply failed.
In the months before and more particularly in the aftermath of the September
11, 2001 attack, the Western allies armed and encouraged the anti-Taliban
Northern Alliance and a loose coalition of tribal warlords to take on and
defeat the Taliban.
This they spectacularly succeeded in doing.
Since then, Western governments and particularly those in Washington and London
have sought to "Westernize" what is still a largely medieval society, install a
democratically elected government in Kabul and defeat the Taliban in the field
with a combination of largely ineffective Afghan troops and dangerously
overstretched US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces.
Simply put, this policy never stood a serious chance of success as many of the
experienced "grey-heads" in the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the
British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, known as MI6) knew perfectly well.
However, their dissenting voices were soon stifled by forced early retirement,
postings out of area and ultimately the denial of promotion.
The senior management of both the CIA and SIS were undermined and sidelined or
replaced by political appointees who were quickly used to ensure than the
Intelligence services "sang from the same hymn sheet" as their political
Far from producing hard and often uncomfortable intelligence on the true nature
of the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, or for that matter on
nuclear proliferation issues in Iran and North Korea, the Intelligence services
have often been reduced to supplying information that if not actively
supporting current political policy, could not easily be used to argue
persuasively against it.
Former US president George W Bush, but perhaps even more so Britain's
long-serving prime minister Tony Blair, willfully reduced Western policy
towards the nations that support Islamic extremism, as well as the nascent
nuclear powers Iran and North Korea, to the same laughable diplomatic tack
tried by former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938 -
History tells us quite clearly that appeasement of a dedicated enemy simply
does not work.
Direct confrontation and the moral strength of purpose to do whatever is
necessary to achieve at least some semblance of success is the only viable and
indeed honest course to take.
An unrealistic level of respect for human rights, the all pervasive corruption
of "political correctness" and the unwillingness to accept reality appear to be
crippling the Western war effort against extremism and the terrorism it
Not surprisingly, none of these factors was allowed to influence or interfere
with a Western policy that saw the carpet bombing of Hamburg and Dresden or
indeed the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II.
It is proving increasingly difficult not to see the startlingly different
standards applied to Germany and Japan in 1945, and those applied to the
countries who arm, train and support Islamic terrorism today as nothing short
of utter hypocrisy by Western leaders.
There is undoubtedly a war for survival under way. However, the seriousness by
which Western leaders appear to be taking it can, in at least some way at
least, be gauged by their reluctance to now even refer to it as the "war on
Yet what else is it?
A first step back towards an admittedly uncomfortable reality would be to
finally have the political courage to face up to the increasingly dangerous
situation in Afghanistan.
Many experienced observers appear to believe that the time is now ripe for the
Western allies to remove the political and military shackles and begin to take
the necessary actions to avoid an embarrassing defeat.
Those actions which offer the most hope include:
Confront Pakistan. No more financial bailouts; diplomatic support or military
aid until the government in Islamabad actually takes on Islamic extremism
within the intelligence services, armed forces and throughout the country.
Pakistan provides the roots of the Afghan conflict and these must be severed to
increase the chances of finally defeating the Taliban.
Re-arm anti-Taliban tribes. Re-equip the old Northern Alliance and the tribal
warlords and turn them loose on the Taliban. These war-like groups understand
the Taliban and have proved before to be valuable allies of the West in
defeating them. It is arguably the best if not the only way to defeat the
growing strength of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies.
Accept that President Hamid Karzai has failed. Karzai has been a dismal failure
and the removal or marginalization of some of his corrupt government in Kabul
is an immediate necessity.
The threat of growing domestic opposition to the war within the US and disquiet
over the recent, fraud-tainted re-election of Karzai may now tempt the current
administration in Washington to reconsider its support and if this means
accepting some form of return to a semi-feudal Afghanistan, then so be it.
There is now increasing evidence that Afghanistan's long-established tribal
warlords are prepared to step up their fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda
if Washington would only agree to provide them with significant funding and new
weapons allowing them to replay the role they had in the original overthrow of
the Taliban regime in 2001-2002
With obvious impatience, ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum told
The Washington Times in an interview at his northern stronghold in late
September, "If you support me, I will destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda,"
adding, "Give me the task and I will do it."
At least 20 other warlords still hold significant power in Afghanistan. They
include provincial governors such as Ismail Khan, Atta Mohammed Noor and Gul
Other former mujahideen, or anti-Soviet freedom fighters as they were more
popularly known, have openly called for a shift in the current US strategy and
indeed a number of these leaders have made similar offers to Washington.
However, seeking or accepting their support does still hold a certain degree of
danger for President Barack Obama.
Among the obvious skeletons in the Afghan cupboard, Dostum and his Uzbek forces
stand accused of numerous war crimes, including involvement in the reported
suffocation of about 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war in vehicle containers.
"He may not be the clean-cut US soldier and true, he has flip-flopped more than
once, but he is a fighter and survivor," said a US military official speaking
only on the condition of anonymity who has worked closely with Dostum in the
past. "We need to count on the Afghan people and tribes much more than we are
doing now. Without them this war is lost."
Jason Motlagh and Sara A Carter, reporting in The Washington Times on September
22, quoted a former commander in the Northern Alliance who had fought the
Taliban alongside the charismatic mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, when he
bluntly stated, "Afghanistan and its people are the only ones who can truly
defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda."
Identified only as "Mohammed", the former commander went on, "We need weapons
and resources - more US troops are not necessary, but we would fight alongside
them if asked."
Making an impassioned plea for US understanding and support, "Mohammed" told
the reporters, "We are not children that need to be watched over - we defeated
the Soviets [in the 1980s]."
He added significantly, "We can defeat the Taliban, but we need assistance from
the US. Not more troops, but we need the NATO commanders to listen to us,
support us. So far, they are not listening and the Afghan people fear they will
be abandoned. This is no way to defeat an enemy."
Caught between an unwillingness to either withdraw or alternatively commit
sufficient resources to win, the current policies of Washington and London may
only result in a cruel stalemate or an ignominious defeat.
Western governments will now have to be both brave and wise to ignore the siren
voices of appeasement, of compromise and of an addiction to some of the rather
false and misleading values enshrined in human-rights legislation.
Perhaps even braver still to take the necessary, but available military steps
to secure some hope of victory.
It is not only the security of the West at stake, but the lives and future of
millions of ordinary Afghans and Pakistani's who have no wish to be forced to
live in the nightmarish and backward looking world of the Taliban.
Richard M Bennett, intelligence analyst and author.
(Copyright 2009 Richard M Bennett.)
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