Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Richard Norton-Taylor, "Afghanistan close to anarchy, warns general," Guardian, July 21, 2006.

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The most senior British military commander in Afghanistan today described the situation in the country as "close to anarchy" with feuding foreign agencies and unethical private security companies compounding problems caused by local corruption.

The stark warning came from Lieutenant General David Richards, head of Nato's international security force in Afghanistan, who warned that western forces there were short of equipment and were "running out of time" if they were going to meet the expectations of the Afghan people.

The assumption within Nato countries had been that the environment in Afghanistan after the defeat of the Taliban in 2002 would be benign, Gen Richards said. "That is clearly not the case," he said today. He referred to disputes between tribes crossing the border with Pakistan, and divisions between religious and secular factions cynically manipulated by "anarcho-warlords".

Corrupt local officials were fuelling the problem and Nato's provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan were sending out conflicting signals, Gen Richards told a conference at the Royal United Services Institute in London. "The situation is close to anarchy," he said, referring in particular to what he called "the lack of unity between different agencies".

He described "poorly regulated private security companies" as unethical and "all too ready to discharge firearms". Nato forces in Afghanistan were short of equipment, notably aircraft, but also of medical evacuation systems and life-saving equipment.

Officials said later that France and Turkey had sent troops to Kabul but without any helicopters to support them.

Gen Richards will also take command of the 4,500-strong British brigade in Helmand province at the heart of the hostile, poppy-growing south of the country when it comes under Nato's overall authority. He said today that Nato "could not afford not to succeed" in its attempt to bring long-term stability to Afghanistan and build up the country's national army and security forces. He described the mission as a watershed for Nato, taking on "land combat operations for the first time in its history".

The picture Gen Richards painted today contrasted markedly with optimistic comments by ministers when they agreed earlier this month to send reinforcements to southern Afghanistan at the request of British commanders there. Many of those will be engineers with the task of appealing to Afghan "hearts and minds" by repairing the infrastructure, including irrigation systems.

Gen Richards said today that was a priority. How to eradicate opium poppies - an issue repeatedly highlighted by ministers - was a problem that could only be tackled later.

General Sir Mike Jackson, the head of the British army, said recently: "To physically eradicate [opium poppies] before all the conditions are right seems to me to be counter-productive." The government admits that Helmand province is about to produce a bumper poppy crop and is now probably the biggest single source of heroin in the world. Ministers are concerned about criticism the government will face if planting over the next few months for next year's crop - in an area patrolled by British troops - is not significantly reduced.

Kim Howells, the Foreign Office minister responsible for Afghanistan, told the Guardian that the immediate target had to be the biggest poppy cultivators and dealers who control the £1bn-plus Afghan drug trade.

The strategy should be: "Go for the fat cats, very wealthy farmers, the movers and shakers of the drug trade" and their laboratories, he said. Asked about the concern of British military commanders that by depriving farmers - and warlords - of a lucrative crop, poppy eradication would feed the insurgency, Mr Howells admitted: "It's a big problem for us."


NATO's Afghan commander bemoans force shortfalls
By Peter Graff

LONDON - A shortage of aircraft and easily deployable reserves is preventing NATO's force in Afghanistan doing its best, its commander said on Friday.

Lieutenant General David Richards, the British NATO commander who takes over responsibility for the dangerous south of the country in 10 days, said fighting in Afghanistan was more severe than the alliance expected when it planned its mission.

"Two years ago, when the North Atlantic Council agreed to this plan, they probably didn't know what they were getting into," he said during remarks to the Royal United Services Institute think tank in London.

"The difficulty SHAPE has sometimes had in meeting the minimum requirements outlined in the statement of requirements denies commanders some of the freedoms they require to respond appropriately to developments," he said, referring to NATO's Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe in Brussels.

He identified shortfalls in "logistics capability, rapidly deployable reserves, air assets -- unfortunately including medivac -- and some lifesaving ECM equipment," the electronic anti-missile counter-measures needed to protect planes.

"Not that people like me cannot construct a plan or implement it, because of course we can, but with a little bit more I can construct a better plan that could be implemented more quickly," he said.

"We are not unable to operate, but we could do it more efficiently."

Richards commands NATO's ISAF peace force, which now patrols only the comparatively quiet north and west of the country but at the end of this month takes over the south, where newly-arrived British, Canadian and Dutch troops have plunged into unexpectedly fierce fighting with Taliban guerrillas.

Britain announced earlier this month it was increasing its force by a quarter amid unexpectedly heavy fighting, and said it was looking for more helicopters to send.

Richards takes over command of the remaining territory, the U.S.-patrolled east, in three months.

He described the mission as a watershed for NATO, taking on "land combat operations for the first time in its history."

He has in the past blamed the West for failing to send enough troops to southern Afghanistan after the Taliban fell in 2001, allowing the ousted guerrillas to return. Vast opium-rich Helmand province, where the British are now deploying 4,500 troops, had just 100 American soldiers until this year.

But Richards also said the war could be won, and the next year would be key.

"This is winnable. But most important: it's got to be won," he said. "If you are the Taliban, this is the year they feel they've got to win. Because next year we will be there in greater strength."
Recommend this Post

Sphere: Related Content