November 17, 2009 in News
November 16, 2009
Gordon Brown tonight raised the prospect of agreeing a timetable for international withdrawal from Afghanistan, in a speech in which he claimed that almost half of al-Qaida’s leadership had now been killed. Brown said he hoped a UN- sponsored London conference in the new year would set a timetable for a transition to Afghan security forces taking charge of their own country.
Delivering the traditional prime minister’s foreign policy speech at the Lord Mayor’s banquet in the City of London, Brown said the damage already inflicted on al-Qaida gave international forces the chance to set a timetable for pulling out.
His speech came amid growing anxiety over strategy in the region. At the same time, there are signs of fracturing support within Westminster over Britain’s involvement and the civilian and military casualties sustained.
The chief of the defence staff, Sir David Richards, predicted last month that UK forces might be fighting on the frontline until 2014, with a further “five years of declining violence” before UK forces went into a supporting role. Brown, like President Barack Obama, is keen to see if he can hold out the prospect of a plan for withdrawal, rather than a war without end.
Explicitly drawing on advice from security services, a tactic that caused serious trouble for Tony Blair in Iraq, Brown said: “Since January 2008, seven of the top dozen figures in al-Qaida have been killed, depleting its reserve of experienced leaders and sapping its morale. And our security services report to me that there is now an opportunity to inflict significant and long-lasting damage to al-Qaida.”
He also said a London-based UN conference in January could “chart a comprehensive political framework within which the military strategy can be accomplished. It should identify a process for transferring district by district to full Afghan control and, if at all possible, set a timetable for transfer starting in 2010″. Downing Street hopes the UN, Nato and Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, would attend a London conference, which could name some provinces that could be handed over to Afghan control quickly, while acknowledging some would take years to transfer.
Obama has repeatedly said he does not want plans to increase US troops to Afghanistan to be seen as an open-ended commitment to the country. Brown and Obama appear to be working on an Iraq-style strategy in which Afghan security forces take over areas on a phased basis as foreign troops increasingly concentrate on training rather than fighting.
But Washington and London regard a clean-up of the Karzai administration as a pre-condition of limiting Taliban support and making Afghan security forces less hated. In a sign of some of the pressure being put on Karzai, the US and British ambassadors in Kabul today flanked Karzai at a press conference at which he promised to clean up his corrupt government through a new tribunal, and said he would work with the FBI, Britain’s Serious Organised Crime Agency and Europol.
Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador in Afghanistan, openly condemned the corruption of the Afghan elite, including its links to the narcotics trade, saying: “Ordinary Afghans must be convinced that the powerful can no longer exploit their positions to make themselves wealthy while the less fortunate struggle to find work and to feed their families.
“The appearance of luxurious mansions around Kabul, with many expensive cars parked outside, surrounded by private armed guards, is a very worrisome sign that some Afghans are cheating their people while claiming to be in their service.”
Eikenberry regards the Afghan leadership as so corrupt that he has advised Obama to send no more troops.
One US official said Karzai’s government was “like a criminal syndicate. That’s why people get driven towards the Taliban – it’s the only way to express your outrage at this stuff.”
Related Material From the Archive:
- Gordon Brown downplays corruption and demands Nato back Karzai
- Mullen Says Afghan Security Situation ‘Serious,’ Getting Worse
- U.K. Presses Anti-Insurgent Strategy
- Obama rules out a narrowed Afghan war
- Major military operation under way in Afghanistan
- Charity: US troops stormed through Afghan hospital
- Peace Talks With Taliban Are a Top Issue in Afghan Vote
- Karzai, top rival run about even in Afghan returns