Taliban are the puppets

The Pakistanis have always claimed that the Taliban insurgency was a ‘home-grown’ rebellion against foreign invaders, that is the Americans, British and rest of NATO and their puppets in Afghanistan, the Karzai government.  Only recently, (16 February, 2012) a Taliban spokesman was quoted by CNN as saying the Taliban had told the Americans they refused to discuss a peace agreement with the Karzai government precisely because they considered them as  ‘puppets’.

In my newly-published book, War Against the Taliban, I show how the Taliban are indeed the “puppets” of Pakistan and its intelligence service, the ISI.

I quote Matt Waldman, a British analyst, who in 2010 interviewed a large number of Taliban and Haqqani commanders who had fled Afghanistan after the American invasion of 2001 and sought refuge in Pakistan.  Later pushed by the ISI they came back to fight in the insurgency against the West.

One man realised very clearly what was happening: Francesc Vendrell, former UN and EU Special Representative for Afghanistan in Kabul from 2001 to 2008. He tried to warn both the British and Americans about the Taliban revival – masterminded by the ISI – which was already visible in 2002, 2003, and 2004, he says, but no one paid any attention.  Even in 2006, Dr Vendrell says, when the British were deploying more than 3,000 troops to Helmand, ‘everyone knew’ British soldiers were being killed by Taliban ‘who were either linked to Pakistan or based in Pakistan’.  It was not until 2007, Vendrell says, that the British and Americans realized what was really happening…’

Too busy in Iraq, the Americans and British simply turned a blind eye to what was happening under our noses in Quetta and elsewhere.

Read more in my book War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Aghanistan, Bloomsbury, London.

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“Attempts to negotiate with the Taliban are doomed to failure”

The Taliban has no real interest in negotiating, “their dreams are higher than that.” This is what an Afghan acquaintance from Kandahar, the heartland of Taliban power, told me last year:

‘The resident is convinced that President Karzai’s attempts to negotiate with the Taliban are doomed to failure. ‘I don’t think you can talk to the Taliban. If they were willing to talk, they would have done it in the last, how many years, that everyone has asked them: “Let’s talk. What are the differences? Let’s get together and talk [about] what are the differences and how we can solve these problems.”’

He believes there are two things that can be done. One is to talk to ‘whoever drives these Taliban’; he feels the international community has not ‘got it’ in the last seven or eight years. ‘The Afghans have been shouting: “Look it’s Pakistan, they [the Taliban] are there and getting training there and they are getting their safe havens there. It’s Pakistan.” Now, the international community has begun to “get it”, a little bit. “Yes, it’s coming from Pakistan!” If you get an agreement with Pakistan . . . there will be peace in Afghanistan. Otherwise, I don’t think they will ever come to the table: because they see nothing [to be gained] in making a peace. What are they going to achieve in peace with the Afghan government?  If they get a share of the government, what kind of share will they get?  They are not educated, are they going to get or accept them in the Ministry of Haj? I don’t think Mullah Omar would be happy to get that ministry. What kind of other ministry is there they can run? He can’t. His dreams are higher than that, I think. And plus he is saying, I am winning this war and you are going to give me the Ministry of Religious Affairs?’

The second thing is ‘the Afghan people. They have always been defending this country, from all the aggressors . . . I think this war can be won by the Afghan people, by the people who live in these villages. If these tribes and villagers are supported wisely and properly, I think they can be very successful in defeating the Taliban.’

There are two possible options in his view. One is: ‘If Pakistan stops [their support] the war will eventually stop because the cap is there. If it stops there then it will stop here, too.’ The second is internal opposition. The people are ‘the one solution that could fight against the Taliban . . . If they talked to people who have been dominated by the Taliban the last couple of years, they’d find they were really tired of the Taliban; because there hadn’t been any progress, people were fed up with them checking their mobile phones every day.’  He explained that the Taliban were quite paranoid about mobile phones and scared they would give their positions away, like a GPS. ‘They check your phone and search houses. But that doesn’t mean they [the Afghans] like the Americans . . . I think they are fed up [with them too]. But they would like someone who is on their side. If they see the Americans and the Afghan government are on their side, and have support from them, they can easily fight against the Taliban. Because they are from that area and if a Talib comes and attacks someone or does some bad thing in the area, he [the victim] knows who the guy is. If that Talib escapes from the area, he is going to go and ask for the arrest of [the Talib’s] father or brother. This is how things work here.’

He gave what he said was a ‘good example’ from Kandahar. One person was kidnapped so, in retaliation, his family kidnapped five of the kidnapper’s relatives and gave their family an ultimatum: ‘Return our man within twenty-four hours or there will be trouble.’  They got him back. ‘This is how things work in Afghanistan. It’s not going to work if you say: “Hey, is this person okay? Did you harm him or not?” No, in Pushtu we have an expression: “You can only break metal with metal.” So this is how things work in Afghanistan.  The tribes need to be engaged in security in Afghanistan.’

The resident’s view has to be taken seriously since it comes from an intelligent and well-informed Kandahari, who believes a local police force with local knowledge and proper government support can defeat the Taliban. It also seems to be very close to General Petraeus’s plan to set up local village police forces, known as arbaki, similar to the local tribal militias the Americans used with such success in Iraq. However, as so often seems to happen in Afghanistan, some units are complaining they have received no money from the government and are consequently losing interest. Once again, Kabul’s failure to follow through may prove a fatal weakness’.

Extract from my latest book “War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went So Wrong,” Bloomsbury.

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American military getting tougher with Pakistan?

See American General Jack Keane’s interview with the BBC, very interesting http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-16832359

– it seems to follow the thinking in the US military on Pakistan that I marked out on in the epilogue of my book – see below:

Extract from the epilogue of my book: “War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan,” in the bookshops now:

One final thought. In the five months from May until the end of October 2011, there has been a dramatic sea change in high-level American thinking, both military and political, caused first by the clinical extermination of Osama bin Laden, killed like a rat in a trap on 2 May in Abbottabad, Pakistan; an event which changed the world. And largely as a consequence, what might be called the Mullen-Tomsen school of thought has emerged, which basically says that the Pakistan Army, in the shape of its all-powerful spy agency, the ISI, is playing and has been playing for a very long time a dirty game of double cross with its hugely generous American allies, and this has to stop. Right now. ‘Or else,’ as Ambassador Tomsen put it.

So far the White House and Hillary Clinton have taken a softer line, holding out at least a sort of olive branch. But to back down now would merely encourage Pakistan to deny everything, as they have always done, on the principle that the bigger the lie the more people will believe it. Will the Americans finally get tough? Impose sanctions? Cut off the funding? We shall see. The future not only of Afghanistan but of much of the world may depend on it.

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War Against the Taliban

Friends, my latest book is in the bookshops as of Jan. 19, 2012

War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan, by Harry Potter publisher, Bloomsbury.

Giving you a taste below:

Lt Col Stuart Tootal, who commanded 3 Para in Helmand in 2006 said there were five reasons the British failed there.

First, there was ‘no proper intelligence’. Instead, among soldiers and politicians alike, there was ‘wishful thinking’ and the ‘wrong mindset’.

Second,  ‘there were clearly not enough troops’.  They only had 1,200 combat troops out of a force of 3,000, most of whom would never go on patrol. It was ‘barking mad to think that one battle group could dominate an area the size … of Northern Ireland where it had taken 16,000 British troops … and the support of a first-world police force, the Royal Ulster Constabulary’ … to do the job. We made a number of calculations before we went to Afghanistan and we didn’t have enough troops just to do the peacekeeping mission … not only were we stretched for general resources but we had real risks in stretching helicopter hours to cover all those outstations.’

Third, 3 PARA did not have enough helicopters in Afghanistan … despite repeated claims by the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, that they did.  ‘We had six Chinooks of which at best five would be available’.

‘Quite frankly a brigade needs twelve Chinooks, that’s what the Americans have … that’s one battle group, at any one time. So we were significantly below the number of aircraft needed.’

Another problem, Tootal says, was [NATO’s] ‘poor command and control structure’.

He is especially critical of the UK decision to sideline Brigadier Ed Butler …‘We had mutual trust and respected each other. We should have been allowed to

work together right from the start . . . ‘It was flawed and wasn’t something that would have been recognised in any decent Staff College’ … To take Butler away as

Brigade Commander was a fundamental mistake.’ …

War Against the Taliban records General Lord Guthrie’s criticism of Gordon Brown’s penny-pinching attitude to defence spending during his ten-year reign as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1997–2007). One of his most vocal and persistent critics was, and remains, General Lord Guthrie, a former Welsh Guards officer who served in the SAS and was Chief of the General Staff before becoming Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS, 1997–2001).

Lord Guthrie makes no secret of his disapproval of Gordon Brown’s attitude to the funding of the armed forces.

‘I feel very strongly . . . that he has been very unsympathetic to defence when he was the Chancellor…

‘He was very unsympathetic, whereas Blair was sympathetic. I suspect why he [Brown] was unsympathetic was because Blair was sympathetic;

and I am serious about that . . . the animosity [between the two] was much, much worse than anyone realises.’

He went on: ‘When times were good and we were rich and other departments were being given money, the Army was given as little as they could get away with . . . and they will say, well in real terms you had an increase

every year, but . . . of course it didn’t keep pace with what we were doing in the Balkans and in Sierra Leone [where] we were heavily engaged.’

Throughout the Helmand campaign …the helicopter issue dominated the argument about the equipping of British troops in Afghanistan. Gordon Brown and his ministers insisted that there were enough helicopters and that the alleged shortage was not the reason for the steady rise in the number of British casualties.

Interviewed in the Times on 25 July 2009, Lord Guthrie said: ‘Peter Mandelson said this week he was convinced that no one had been killed through lack of helicopters – well, I don’t believe that’s so. And when Alistair Darling [Chancellor of the Exchequer, 2007–2010] says we will give the Army everything it asks for, that is patently not true.’ To anyone who had been on the ground in a war, ‘helicopters are obviously better than winding columns of troops who can be seen miles away in a cloud of dust. They are easy to ambush and having more helicopters would avoid much of that.

‘Helicopters give you huge flexibility . . . The helicopters are the thing that would save lives and actually make the Army more effective.’

In another passage, Guthrie explained: ‘In the end it’s about money. When we could have made a decent investment, we didn’t,’ a reference to the 1998 Strategic Defence Review’s recommendation, among other things, to more than double the number of Chinook and Merlin heavy-lift helicopters, which was ‘dumped unceremoniously’ by Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon in 2004 on instructions from Brown.

‘Gordon Brown focused on health and education rather than on defence. That means we’re not prepared. When you suddenly realise the body armour doesn’t work, or the vehicles haven’t got the right protection, you have to throw money at it very quickly which means you are paying way over what you would have paid if you had been sensible about planning. It’s no good the Prime

Minister one moment saying success is all-important and then for the sake of a few extra helicopters and 2,000 men allows the mission in Afghanistan to fail. You can’t go to war in a penny-pinching way.’

Lord Guthrie told me that Gordon Brown’s lack of interest in defence was ‘certainly not a Labour thing – old Labour were extremely patriotic and some of our best Defence Secretaries were from the Labour Party. But Gordon Brown doesn’t understand the military.’ When Chancellor, he said, Brown was the only Cabinet minister who refused to attend briefings with the heads of the armed forces. ‘I was very upset that he wouldn’t come and hear our side.’   The only time he did was to talk about the future of Rosyth docks, in Fife, where Brown also has his constituency.

There is a story, possibly apocryphal, that one day General Guthrie, as CDS, went to see Tony Blair, with whom he got on well – despite declining the invitation to call him ‘Tony’ as Blair urged him to do, an invitation he is said to have also extended to the Queen. On this occasion, Guthrie was lobbying Blair for more funding for the armed forces. Blair told him to go and see Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, who under their power-sharing agreement was in charge of the economy. Guthrie said he knew what that meant and demurred, persisting that he wanted the Prime Minister’s approval. To no avail: Blair refused to get involved. So, reluctantly, Guthrie went to see Gordon Brown who, as he expected, stonewalled and finally said:

‘You think I’m unsympathetic to defence, don’t you, General?’

Guthrie is said to have answered:

‘No, Chancellor, I don’t think you’re unsympathetic to defence.’ Pause. ‘I think you’re f****** unsympathetic to defence!’

Even if it is apocryphal, it probably reflects Lord Guthrie’s real feelings for Gordon Brown.

Sandy Gall

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My new book, out from Bloomsbury on Wednesday, January 18 is called: War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan.

Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan

The shortest and most honest answer is –Iraq.   Once President George W Bush and his right-wing Praetorian Guard, VP Dick Cheney, Sec. of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and their Neo-Con supporters had taken the fateful decision to invade Iraq, the die was cast, although no one in the Administration dreamt it would turn out to be such a disaster.

Tony Blair, the British Prime Minister, gave Bush his total support – a huge and costly mistake.  It did irreparable damage to British standing in the Middle East and imposed huge financial burdens.  Also, there was no justification.  As Max Cleland, the Senator for Georgia, shrewdly remarked, attacking Iraq after 9/11 was like attacking Mexico after Pearl Harbor.

As one Western diplomat told me in Kabul: ‘Perhaps the grossest error of all was President George Bush deciding . . . to charge off and invade Iraq, ignoring what was happening in Afghanistan.’

British politicians and military men were always fighting one another. General Sir Richard Dannatt, Chief of the General Staff, often let rip.  In his memoirs he said Gordon Brown’s influence on defense spending was malign and Tony Blair ‘lacked the moral courage to impose his will on his own Chancellor’.

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Welcome to my new blog. Just setting it up.

Coming soon weekly reflections on events in Afghanistan and news of my new book, “War Against the Taliban: Why It All Went Wrong in Afghanistan,” published by Bloomsbury, London, coming out January 18, 2011.

For news of our charity for disabled Afghans visit http://www.sandygallsafghanistanappeal.org/

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