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Just For NATO MacCredibility . . .

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    Posted: 20 September 2006 at 8:35am

. . . we must keep roasting ze Afghanos!

Browne fears deeper Afghan conflict

Richard Norton-Taylor
Wednesday September 20, 2006
The Guardian

Des Browne, the defence secretary, warned yesterday that the violence in southern Afghanistan, where British and other Nato troops are engaged in fierce fighting with the Taliban, could escalate into a deeper and more serious conflict.

 

In a frank assessment of the task facing troops, during which he contradicted comments by his predecessor, John Reid, Mr Browne said there was "still much we must learn" about the Taliban-led insurgency. He said Nato's mission in Afghanistan was vital for its credibility. And in a candid reference to cross-border infiltration by insurgents, he said that Pakistan was "part of the problem" as well as part of the solution.

 

Mr Browne said there were signs that Afghans were tired of the constant fighting, and that the Taliban hardcore consisted of only about 1,000 people. But he added that its leaders were "adept at forming alliances of convenience with the drug barons and criminal gangs".

 

"Together they recruit foot soldiers from among the poor, ordinary Afghan tribesmen" who fought because they were paid to, often with drug money. The foot soldiers made up the majority of those fighting British and Canadian troops.

 

"If we cannot persuade them to put down their guns, then we will struggle to make progress, and there will be a real danger that their deaths will motivate others to join the fight, and potentially turn this into a conflict of a different kind," he said.

 

Mr Browne did not spell out the dangers in his speech to the Royal United Services Institute in London, first details of which were revealed in the Guardian yesterday. But analysts have warned that the conflict could attract more al-Qaida-inspired Islamists and develop into a battle of the scale of that in Iraq, or even a fully fledged civil war.

 

Answering questions on the role of British soldiers in Afghanistan, Mr Browne said it was unhelpful to distinguish between counter-terrorist and counter-insurgency operations. Soldiers were not asked whether they were shooting at insurgents or terrorists, he said.

 

Yet in April, while announcing the deployment of British troops, Mr Reid, now the home secretary, went out of his way to make such a distinction. "There is a fundamental difference between our mission of support to reconstruction and stabilisation, which might include some counter-insurgency operations for defensive purposes, and the counter-terrorism mission ... led by the US," he said. "Theirs [the US] is essentially a 'search-and-destroy' mission in which the finding and defeat of terrorists is the overriding aim ... Ours is firmly centred on the reconstruction effort."

 

In the event, British troops have taken the fight to the Taliban in the northern part of Helmand province, mainly at the behest of US commanders and Afghan leaders. Mr Browne admitted yesterday that little progress had been made in reconstructing southern Afghanistan.

 

He also said that countering narcotics was not a task for British soldiers, although Afghanistan is the source of 90% of heroin on British streets. "We have not sent our troops there to seize opium or eradicate poppies," he said.

 

British defence officials say this would provoke even more hostility towards British troops. Persuading farmers to cultivate alternative crops is the task of the Afghan authorities and civilian development agencies, they stress.

Mr Browne criticised Britain's allies who were not prepared to send troops to Afghanistan. "Nato is an alliance. When it decides to use military force, all partners should be prepared to face equal risk." Britain has almost 5,000 troops in country. "They are working in arduous conditions, around the clock, up to and sometimes beyond the bounds of stamina and endurance."

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