Our man in Kabul says US strategy is failing

By Julian Borger, diplomatic editor and Simon Tisdall (THE GUARDIAN, 02/10/08):

Britain’s ambassador to Afghanistan believes the US strategy there is failing, Nato reinforcements would be counter-productive and that it would be better if “an acceptable dictator” came to power in Kabul in the next few years, a French satirical weekly reported yesterday.

The comments attributed to Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles were included in a diplomatic dispatch from a French diplomat in Kabul published by the French weekly, Le Canard Enchaîné, which combines investigative journalism and satire.

Reporting on a meeting on September 2, the French diplomat, Jean-François Fitou, quoted Cowper-Coles as saying: “The American strategy is destined to fail.

“The coalition presence – particularly the military presence – is part of the problem, not the solution,” Cowper-Coles is quoted as saying. More Nato troops would have “a perverse effect”.

“It would identify us even more clearly as an occupying force and multiply the number of targets [by insurgents].”

According to the published memo, he also says the elected Afghan government of Hamid Karzai had lost all trust, and that it would be a “positive thing” if in five to 10 years, after the departure of British troops, the country was governed by “an acceptable dictator”.

A Foreign Office statement issued yesterday said: “It is not for us to comment on something that is presented as extracts from a French diplomatic telegram, but the views quoted are not in any way an accurate representation of the British government’s approach. We work closely with our US allies in all aspects of decision making and regularly review our approach.”

British officials have expressed deep concern over the security situation in Afghanistan, and have clashed with the US over elements of policy, such as counter-narcotics. The leaked memo has emerged at a time of deepening gloom over the security situation in Afghanistan. The UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said it had “deteriorated markedly” over the past six months, and pointed to the increasing attacks on aid workers. At least 30 have been killed so far this year.

General David McKiernan, the top US commander in Afghanistan, warned yesterday that militant Islamist jihadis were flooding into the country from all corners of the Muslim world to join the Taliban’s fight against the Nato alliance, mostly via Pakistan. “They are very well trained. They are good at attacks on soft targets. They are Uzbeks, Chechens, Punjabis, Arabic [sic], Europeans,” he said.

Speaking at a press conference in Washington, McKiernan said efforts were underway to improve cooperation with the Pakistani military and intelligence services to halt the flow of jihadis. While he welcomed recent changes at the top of Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, he described the ISI as “historically and institutionally complicit” in Taliban activities in Pakistan’s tribal areas.

McKiernan confirmed he was seeking an additional three US combat brigades – approximately 10,500 soldiers – to reinforce the 40-country Nato International Security Assistance Force mission. He said the troops should be deployed as quickly as possible.