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While the U.S. presidential candidates both suggest an increase in military forces as the solution for the conflict in Afghanistan, U.S. allies, and even the U.S. Defense Secretary, have agreed that a political solution involving engaging in diplomacy with the Taliban is necessary.
Britain’s most senior military commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith this week said “We’re not going to win this war. It’s about reducing it to a manageable level of insurgency that’s not a strategic threat and can be managed by the Afghan army.”
“We may well leave with there still being a low but steady ebb of rural insurgency,” he also said.
“I don’t think we should expect that when we go there won’t be roaming bands of armed men in this part of the world. That would be unrealistic and probably incredible.”
In addition, he said, “We want to change the nature of the debate from one where disputes are settled through the barrel of the gun to one where it is done through negotiations.”
“If the Taliban were prepared to sit on the other side of the table and talk about a political settlement, then that’s precisely the sort of progress that concludes insurgencies like this. That shouldn’t make people uncomfortable.”
In response, U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said, “While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunity to be successful in the long run.”
He said “We continue to see the need for additional forces in Afghanistan. I want to make sure that everybody understands that the increase in US forces are not seen as replacements for Nato contributions, but as reinforcement.”
He agreed that dealing with the Taliban was part of the solution, saying, “What is important is detaching those who are reconcilable and who are willing to be part of the future of the country from those who are irreconcilable.”
“Part of the solution is strengthening the Afghan security forces, part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghan.”
The British ambassador to Afghanistan, according to a leaked French diplomatic cable, has suggested that the U.S.-led NATO military campaign against the Taliban is part of the problem, not the solution.
The British envoy, Sherard Cowper-Coles, was quoted by the deputy French ambassador in the cable as saying, “The current situation is bad, the security situation is getting worse, so is corruption, and the government has lost all trust.”
“The presence of the coalition, in particular its military presence, is part of the problem, not part of its solution.”
He added, “Foreign forces are the lifeline of a regime that would rapidly collapse without them. As such, they slow down and complicate a possible emergence from the crisis.”
The British envoy also suggested, reports the New York Times, that “the only ‘realistic’ way to unite Afghanistan would be for it to be ‘governed by an acceptable dictator,’ the cable said, adding, ‘We should think of preparing our public opinion’ for such an outcome.”
Both U.S. presidential candidates have vowed to increase the military presence in Afghanistan. “It is the American presidential candidates,” the envoy said, “who must be dissuaded from getting further bogged down in Afghanistan.”
Republican candidate John McCain has touted the U.S. “surge” in Iraq as a “success” and said that he wants to implement a similar policy in Afghanistan. Democratic hopeful Barack Obama has said he is open to engaging in diplomacy with official “enemies” while McCain has rejected the very notion, preferring to tout his “surge” idea as the military strategy for victory.
The Afghan government itself, however, has reportedly sought talks with the Taliban to find a negotiated settlement to the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, according to a CNN report earlier this week, hosted talks between the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai and representatives of the Taliban on September 24 and 27. Saudi Arabia was one of the Taliban’s principle benefactors prior to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
A Presidential spokesman acknowledged that “The government of Afghanistan is open to speaking with anyone in the opposition and the people who are fighting against the Afghan people and the Afghan government”, but added, “But no such talks have happened, as of yet.”
A Taliban spokesman rejected the idea and the group denies any talks occurred. The Taliban says it refuses to deal with a “puppet” regime. Before such talks could be held, the group has said, U.S. and other foreign forces must be withdrawn.
In other Afghanistan news, the country began registering voters Monday for the scheduled election next year.