Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Changing Course in Afghanistan

"We do not use the word 'win'. We can't kill our way out of this problem."

That sums up the thinking behind a change in tactics by British forces in Afghanistan. According to The Guardian, it's more of a "let's make a deal" approach to counterinsurgency.

"Officials say the new tactics are to identify "Talibs who are sick of fighting" and persuade them to rejoin their tribes and benefit from the human rights laws and state structures being set up in the country. Captured fighters may also be offered alternatives to incarceration, while more deals will be sought with tribal elders.

"They hope increasingly to damage the Taliban without relying on a shooting war, a tactic which has often proved counter-productive in the past, notably when Nato air strikes kill civilians. 'We are convinced most people do not support the Taliban and want to take a route through it,' said one source. British officials distinguish the Taliban from al-Qaida, describing it as a 'more fluid' organisation.

The British say the new approach recognizes the opportunity to approach the Taliban differently than al-Qaeda:

"An official familiar with British policy on Afghanistan described the difference this way: 'The Taliban is not a homogenous group. It is a mixture of characters - criminals, drug dealers, people out of work. There is a wide variety of different people. The Taliban pays them to carry out these attacks so there are ways to tackle the problem, to split off the disillusioned.'

In addition to their tactical heresy, the British also part company with the Americans on dealing with Afghanistan's drug trade:

"British officials are worried about the consequences of US proposals to eradicate Afghanistan's opium poppy harvest, which include spraying the crops from the air, a policy it adopted in Colombia.

"The fear is that tough anti-narcotic measures now would alienate poor farmers who have no alternative livelihood and drive more Afghans into the hands of the Taliban. Such a policy would further endanger British troops, military commanders say. 'The Americans are more impatient than we are,' said one official, adding that the immediate priority should be to target and disrupt 'convoys and laboratories and medium value drugs traffickers'.

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