Tuesday, September 19, 2006
Browne admits 'we underestimated Taliban'
By Toby Helm, Chief Political Correspondent
Britain and Nato seriously underestimated the resilience of the Taliban when sending troops into Afghanistan, Des Browne, the Defence Secretary has admitted.
Addressing the Royal United Services Institute in London, he said the task had proved “harder than we expected”.
But he urged Nato countries who are now resisting sending extra troops to think again.
The Taliban’s tenacity in the face of massive losses has been more than we expected,” Mr Browne said. Referring to Nato’s attempts to assemble another 2,500 more troops, he said some nations had “doubts that the mission could ever succeed” while others were concerned about “the level of risk” their soldiers would be exposed to.
“Nato nations must decide whether to back their investment, re-affirm their original intent and send a clear signal that Nato as an alliance is strong and determined to see the task through,” he said.
“All partners should be prepared to face equal risk. No-one has a monopoly on determination and courage.”
“Success won’t be what we understand to be security and prosperity and proper governance, but it will be progress and it will be massively worth it,” he added.
He stressed that Nato’s Afghan foes had been “fought to a standstill” and added: “They cannot beat us.”
But that was only the first step, the Defence Secretary said. There remained a “hard core” of possibly 1,000 Taliban who were “implacable, irreconcilable and determined to keep their impunity in the south and possibly reclaim control of the whole country”.
They were adept at forming alliances with the drugs barons and at recruiting footsoldiers from among ordinary Afghan tribesmen.
Mr Browne said it was essential that Nato was able to demonstrate to such recruits that it would not be defeated in combat and that the Taliban lacked the strength to impose their vision of the future on the country.
“These tribesmen are persuaded to fight not because they hate us, or because of an Afghan culture of resistance, but simply because they are paid - often with money made from drugs,” he said.
“We don’t want to kill them, or defeat them - we want to convince them to back peace, to back the view of the future represented by the Afghan government, rather than by the Taliban or the drug lords.
“I fully acknowledge that if we cannot do this, if we cannot persuade them to put down their guns, then we will struggle to make progress, and there will be a real danger that their deaths will motivate others to join the fight, and potentially turn ends.”