NATO to consider talks with the Taliban?

An Afghan soldier holds his weapon at a check point in Arghandab district, recaptured from the Taliban militants, in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday June 22, 2008. (AP / Musadeq Sadeq)An Afghan soldier holds his weapon at a check point in Arghandab district, recaptured from the Taliban militants, in Kandahar province, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Sunday June 22, 2008. (AP / Musadeq Sadeq)

Oct. 8 2008

LONDON — When NATO defence ministers meet in Budapest on Thursday, they will face a worsening situation in Afghanistan and vexing questions about whether the war can be won.

Increasingly, military commanders and political leaders are asking: Is it time to talk to the Taliban?

With U.S. and NATO forces suffering their deadliest year so far in Afghanistan, a rising chorus of voices, including U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates and the incoming head of U.S. Central Command, have endorsed efforts to reach out to members of the Taliban considered willing to seek an accommodation with President Hamid Karzai’s government.

“That is one of the key long-term solutions in Afghanistan, just as it has been in Iraq,” Gates told reporters Monday. “Part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghan government going forward.”

Gen. David Petraeus, who will become responsible for U.S. military operations in Afghanistan as head of U.S. Central Command on Oct. 31, agreed.

“I do think you have to talk to enemies,” Petraeus said Wednesday at an appearance at the Heritage Foundation in Washington, when asked about potential dialogue with the Taliban.

“You’ve got to set things up. You’ve got to know who you’re talking to. You’ve got to have your objectives straight,” he said. “But I mean, what we did do in Iraq ultimately was sit down with some of those that were shooting at us. What we tried to do was identify those who might be reconcilable.”

In terms of Afghanistan, he said: “The key there is making sure that all of that is done in complete co-ordination with complete support of the Afghan government — and with President Karzai.”

But entering negotiations with the Taliban raises difficult issues.

It is not clear whether there is a unified Taliban command structure that could engage in serious talks, and the group still embraces the hardline ideology that made them pariahs in the West until their ouster from power in 2001.

During its 1996-2001 rule, Afghan women and girls were barred from attending school or holding jobs, music and television were banned, men were compelled to wear beards, and artwork or statues deemed idolatrous or anti-Muslim were destroyed.

In an assault that provoked an international outcry, Taliban fighters blew up two giant statues of Buddha that had graced the ancient Silk Road town of Bamiyan for some 1,500 years.

Seven years after the U.S. invasion, what was originally considered a quick military success has turned into an increasingly violent counterinsurgency fight.

An unprecedented number of U.S. troops — about 32,000 — are in Afghanistan today, and the Pentagon plans to send several thousand more in the coming months. Gates is expected to press for additional troops and money for the fight in Afghanistan at this week’s NATO meeting.

At least 131 U.S. troops have died in Afghanistan this year, surpassing the previous annual high of 111 in 2007. An additional 100 troops from other NATO countries have died in 2008.

Canada, which has some 2,500 troops in southern Kandahar province, has lost 23 soldiers so far this year.

NATO commander says peacemaking up to Afghan gov’t

Speaking in London on Monday, U.S. Gen. John Craddock, NATO’s supreme operational commander, said he is open to talks with the Taliban as long as any peacemaking bid is led by the Afghan government, not western forces.

“I have said over and over again this is not going to be won by military means,” Craddock said, adding that NATO’s goal is to create a safe environment so responsibility for security can be transferred to Afghan authorities.

The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, added his voice to the rising chorus, saying Tuesday it was “desirable” to have direct talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, and offering to host any such meeting.

The problem, say some analysts, is identifying who within the Taliban can be a reliable negotiating partner.

“The Taliban are no longer a monolithic force; with whom do you negotiate if you want to talk with the Taliban?” asked Eric Rosenbach, executive director of the Center for International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School.

Rather than high-level, high-profile negotiations, “the Afghan government should pursue talks with individual commanders and warlords” who have renounced violence, he said.

“This approach is much more likely to succeed, will further fracture the opposition, and will place the Afghan government in a position of strength for future negotiations.”

Charles Heyman, editor of Armed Forces of the United Kingdom, said there is widespread agreement that the original U.S. and British goal of building a liberal, western-style democracy in Afghanistan is not attainable because the Taliban never were routed or forced to disband.

“There is going to be an accommodation with the Taliban whether people like it or not,” he said. “Everyone knows this is going to be very, very difficult.”

He said the West’s long-term interest would be served by ensuring that al-Qaida doesn’t have a presence in Afghanistan. That would mean making sure any future Afghan leadership, even if it includes Taliban elements, understands that it will come under sustained attack if it allows al-Qaida to set up training camps there.

Ayesha Khan, an associate fellow at the Chatham House research group in London, said it is possible that clerics close to fugitive Taliban leader Mullah Omar could meet with Afghan government representatives.

“This desire to engage the Taliban started last year and has gained momentum,” she said. “The British government is involved in strategizing it. They are trying to separate the more moderate Taliban from the more extremist ones.”

Source

US military admits killing 33 civilians in Afghanistan air strike

October 9. 2008

The US military has admitted killing 33 civilians in an air strike on a village in Afghanistan in August, far more than it has previously acknowledged.

Following the attack on August 22 on Azizabad, in Heart province, the Afghan government claimed that 90 civilians, mainly women and children, were killed, a figure backed by the UN.

Until now the US has estimated that that no more than seven civilians died in the attack. It launched an inquiry after it emerged that film recorded on mobile phones showed rows of bodies of children and babies in a makeshift morgue.

The inquiry found that of the 33 dead civilians, eight were men, three women and 12 children. The 10 others were undetermined. It also claimed that 22 Taliban fighters were killed in the attack.

The inquiry dismissed the Afghan government’s estimate as over reliant on statements from villagers.

“Their reports lack independent evidence to support the allegations of higher numbers of civilian casualties,” the US report said. A spokesman for the Afghan government said it stood by its estimate.

The US expressed regret for the civilian losses but blamed the Taliban for having chosen to take up fighting positions near civilians.

“Unfortunately, and unknown to the US and Afghan forces, the (militants) chose fighting positions in close proximity to civilians,” the report said.

The acting commander of US forces in the Middle East, lieutenant general Martin Dempsey, said the attack was based on credible intelligence and was made in self defence.

“We are deeply saddened at the loss of innocent life in Azizabad. We go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan in all our operations, but as we have seen all too often, this ruthless enemy routinely surround themselves with innocents,” he said.

US central command said its investigation was based on 28 interviews resulting in more than 20 hours of recorded testimony from Afghan government officials, Afghan village elders, officials from nongovernmental organisations, US and Afghan troops, 236 documents and 11 videos.

The issue of civilian deaths has outraged Afghans and strained relations with foreign forces in Afghanistan to help fight the insurgency. Afghan president Hamid Karzai has warned US and NATO for years that they must stop killing civilians on bombing runs against militants, saying the deaths undermine his government and the international mission.

Following the raid on Azizabad Nato’s commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, issued a revised tactics and procedures for air and ground assaults against insurgents.

Source

Advertisements
Published in: on October 9, 2008 at 9:44 am  Comments Off on NATO to consider talks with the Taliban?  
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: