ROAR: Britain, allies try to find new strategy for Afghanistan

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
The Western coalition can neither eliminate the Taliban, nor negotiate with them, analysts say.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown said on September 4 that Britain’s military will stay in Afghanistan until that country can protect itself. He dismissed calls to begin planning a pullout from the country, made by MP Eric Joyce.

The Russian media wrote that Joyce, a parliamentary aide to the defense secretary, quit last week over the British government’s strategy in Afghanistan. Some deputies of the British government, in their turn, have called on Brown to create a military cabinet. The parliamentarians believe it could take operative measures supporting the British military deployed in Afghanistan.

Speaking at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London on September 4, Brown described his own vision of a successful conclusion of the operation: “We will have succeeded when our troops are coming home because the Afghans are doing the job themselves.”

Brown’s formula seems to be more precise compared to what special envoy Richard Holbrooke has said about the success of the Western coalition in Afghanistan: “We’ll know it when we see it.”

Britain has the second-biggest contingent of more than 9,000 troops in Afghanistan, who are fighting insurgents in the dangerous Helmand province. Brown, criticized for failing to provide enough helicopters and vehicles for troops, pledged on September 4 to allocate $33 million to operations in Helmand.

The death toll among NATO soldiers and civilians in Afghanistan has increased in recent months, raising questions about the strategy of NATO countries. One of the ways to change the strategy of the Western coalition might be talks with part of the Taliban movement, some observers believe.

The representatives of 27 countries and organizations involved in operations in Afghanistan do not rule out such a possibility and even discussed it among other things in Paris on September 2, Vremya Novostey daily said.

One of the main reasons behind this decision is that “the presidential election in Afghanistan has not brought the country closer to peace and stability,” the paper stressed.

It was British Foreign Minister David Miliband who, on July 27, suggested the idea of a new strategy on Afghanistan “because of the unpopularity of the war in Afghanistan,” said Said Amin Khalekyar, commentator at the website.

Speaking in Brussels, Miliband urged NATO member states for a more fair division of responsibility during the operations in Afghanistan, the analyst added. However, this initiative practically does not differ from those that had been put forward by London earlier, Khalekyar said.

He added that the hasty announcement of the new strategy was prompted “by the loss of 20 British soldiers in July.” The British government was accused then in insufficient financing of the units deployed in Afghanistan.

“At the same time, the British media discussed the role of Britain in the Afghan war,” Khalekyar said. “Polls revealed the increase of antiwar sentiments,” he added. “According to them, the majority of respondents in the United Kingdom (52%) spoke for the withdrawal of the British military from Afghanistan.”

“Some 58% of those polled said that it was impossible to eliminate the Taliban with military force,” the analyst noted. “But the head of the Foreign Office did not note any concrete ways of eliminating military and ideological potential of radical groups which get assistance from Pakistan.”

Analyst at the Center of Modern Afghanistan Studies Andrey Serenko, in his turn, is certain that the idea of negotiations between the West and moderate Taliban “has failed.” During the presidential election, Taliban of Pushtun origin “proved themselves to be an antinational force” for their atrocities against those who wanted to vote, he stressed.

Britain, the U.S. and their allies will continue to work with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, because the second round of the election is unlikely, many Russian observers believe.

The Afghan authorities “are not prepared for the second round, they do not even have paper to print bulletins,” Serenko said. He noted that, despite a lot of criticism, the election was “fair enough,” and Karzai’s victory in the first round seems “undoubted”.

Karzai is leading even in some Tajik areas where the whole administrative resource worked for his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, the paper said.

After confirming his stance on Afghanistan, the British Prime Minister met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel on September 6, and the two leaders announced plans for an international conference on the future of Afghanistan under the auspices of the UN.

The conference, which will take place by the end of the year, should “look ahead at the next phase” of the mission in Afghanistan. The participants will discuss security, governance and development. The U.S. is said to support the initiative.

Merkel stressed that NATO’s “whole strategy is directed at winning the trust of the Afghan population.” However, this aim was questioned again on September 4 after a U.S. fighter jet dropped two bombs on the stolen tankers with fuel, killing and injuring dozens of civilians in the Kunduz province. German servicemen have been blamed for asking the pilots to strike the tankers when it was not clear if civilians were near the site.

The discontent of the Afghan people with air strikes has increased, Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily wrote. After Barack Obama had become president “the new strategy” in Afghanistan was announced, the paper said. Avoiding casualties among civilians was supposed to be part of the strategy, but the air strike in Kunduz “broke these promises,” the daily said.

Meanwhile, on September 7, the U.S. may begin the transit of military cargoes via Russia, the media reported. Thus, Russia will help NATO to strengthen in Afghanistan, Sergey Mikheev, vice president of the Center for Political Technologies, believes. However, he doubts that it is advantageous for Moscow.

The Western military want to influence other states of the region from Afghanistan, the analyst said. “Afghanistan is a stage in the division of the world after the bipolar system failed,” Mikheev told website.

“They wanted to consolidate their grip on Eurasia… and deployed a lot of troops there,” Mikheev said. “The card of the Taliban was played, although nobody had been interested in the Taliban before.”

Sergey Borisov, RT