x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Commander's ousting fuels calls for a new approach

With record violence earlier this year, there is consensus that security deteriorated during the time of Gen McChrystal.

KABUL // The sacking of the commander of Nato and US forces in Afghanistan has led to calls for a new approach to be adopted here by his successor.

Gen Stanley McChrystal's dismissal, and the confirmation yesterday of Gen David Petraeus as his replacement, cap what has been a turbulent period for international forces in Afghanistan, with the body count in June already the worst of any month since the conflict began. At least 100 have died so far. As a result, members of the political scene in Kabul believe the time is right to look at alternative ways to end the bloodshed.

Although there are a number of different views about what should happen next, there is a consensus that security deteriorated under Gen McChrystal's watch. "More than 100,000 foreign troops are here and there are [around] 100,000 in the Afghan army and [around] 100,000 in the police, but the Taliban are maybe 20,000 men so how can these hundreds of thousands of soldiers not defeat them?" said Padshah Khan Zadran, an MP and former warlord from Paktia province.

"If the Americans do not work very seriously they will be like the Russians. The Russians had the same power but their operations were also weak so they lost." During Gen McChrystal's tenure the occupation expanded significantly and a counterinsurgency doctrine was implemented in an effort to win over the local population. This saw soldiers given stricter rules of engagement, while also being sent to new areas of the country, where they were meant to help spread the Afghan government's influence.

Earlier in the year he claimed to have halted the deterioration in security, but statistics show that violence has reached record levels and the fighting is expected to intensify in the weeks ahead. American troops are due to begin withdrawing in July 2011, according to a deadline set by the US president, Barack Obama, and that is one aspect of Washington's policy that Mr Zadran wants changed under the new command. "If they gradually leave Afghanistan from next year, then again it will be the centre of terrorism and al Qa'eda. All the world will not be safe," he said.

In a report leaked to the media soon after he took up his position last summer, Gen McChrystal painted a dire picture of the situation on the ground here. He warned of a "resilient and growing insurgency" that could be impossible to defeat if the initiative was not wrested from it within 12 months. Some observers think that the scenario is now materialising and they lay at least part of the blame for failing to improve security at his feet.

Waheed Mozhdah, a Kabul-based political analyst, said evidence of the rebels' growing strength could be found only a short distance from Kabul. "When you go past Maidan Shahr, you see the same situation as when the Soviet Union collapsed. Anarchy is now very common in Afghanistan and if you look at all the countryside, everyone is trying to beat the foreign forces," he said. Mr Mozhdah added that Gen McChrystal's attempts to create an Iraq-style awakening movement among Afghan tribes had been misguided, while a high-profile operation in the Marjah area of Helmand earlier this year "did not achieve anything".

"The sacking of Gen McChrystal is a kind of victory for the Taliban," he said. The US Senate Armed Services Committee backed Gen Petraeus' appointment yesterday, but there is nothing to suggest that he will bring with him a radical change in strategy. The July 2011 drawdown remains fixed in place and there is a sense here that the endgame is approaching. This week, the broadcaster Al Jazeera claimed the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, had met the major insurgent leader Sirajuddin Haqqani and senior Pakistani security officials in an attempt to eventually broker a power sharing deal.

The US, however, continues to insist the rebels must be slowed militarily if they are to be brought to the negotiating table. Habibullah Fouzi served as the Taliban regime's ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1997 to 1999. Currently living in Kabul, he called on the Afghan government and the international community to show they are serious about wanting an end to the war. "If the strategy continues like it is now it will not work because Afghanistan is very different to other countries. For example, if the Americans want to do anything by force, the people here will not accept it," he said.

"The Taliban have two ways: the difficult one of war and the easy one of peace. If we offer peace, obviously they will choose the easy way," he said. @Email:csands@thenational.ae