LONDON - There have been critics enough of the U.S.-led military actions under
way in Afghanistan, but now military commanders too have begun to question just
what they are doing in Afghanistan.
Most prominently, an officer who was an aide to the British forces in Helmand,
the southern district of Afghanistan that has witnessed the strongest fighting
between the Taliban and international forces, has come out with strong criticism
of the British army in Afghanistan – and quit the army.
Capt. Leo Docherty said the British campaign in Helmand province was "a
textbook case of how to screw up a counter-insurgency." His statements
came in an open letter that was prominently reported in British media –
but not followed up in much public debate.
The army officer raised the fundamental question of the development of Afghanistan
arising from the campaign to capture the town of Sangin in Helmand, a military
campaign in which he participated.
Docherty says British troops managed to capture the Taliban stronghold, but
then had nothing to offer by way of development.
"The military is just one side of the triangle," he said. "Where
were the Department for International Development and the Foreign Office?"
As forces sat back with little to offer, the Taliban hit back, and British troops
there are bunkered up and under daily attack, he wrote.
"Now the ground has been lost, and all we're doing in places like Sangin
is surviving," said Docherty. "It's completely barking mad."
And such action is only provoking greater support for the Taliban, he warned.
"All those people whose homes have been destroyed and sons killed are
going to turn against the British. It's a pretty clear equation – if people
are losing homes and poppy fields, they will go and fight. I certainly would."
He added that British troops have been "grotesquely clumsy" in their
operations, and that the military policy was "pretty shocking and not something
I want to be part of."
Development and rights groups have for long been critical of an exclusively
military intervention. They have warned also that military action of this kind
appears to local Afghans as part of a larger Western assault on the Muslim world.
"There were windows of opportunity for collaboration five years ago between
the West and Muslim countries, but the window of opportunity is closed now,
that is for sure," Emmanuel Reinert, head of the Senlis Council, an independent
group studying the effects of drugs policies in Afghanistan told IPS.
"We can still reopen it but we need to show that we are going to change
our ways," he added. "There has to be a clear change in our approach,
a change of management."
There is little promise that will happen. The United States has been struggling
to get more soldiers into Afghanistan to bolster the international force. The
emphasis on strengthening the military rather than raising resources for development
is now only growing.
Human development in the form of improved rights for women is in fact becoming
a casualty of the military operations – after declarations that human development
was one of the goals of the Afghanistan intervention besides countering terrorism.
The Senlis Council has reported starvation conditions in several parts of southern
Afghanistan. And this is only increasing support for the Taliban, and potentially,
for terrorism too.
The increased military presence is not always helping the military, either.
Another British army officer has said in a leaked e-mail that the air force
is "utterly, utterly useless" in protecting troops on the ground in
Afghanistan. The air force has been called in as ground troops face increased
attacks from the Taliban
Such military voices from the front in Afghanistan are in alarming tune with
warnings from groups such as the Senlis Council. Some soldiers are talking the
language of development now more than governments.
The new voices from Washington suggest increased pressure on Pakistan to cease
military support for the Taliban, under pressure from visiting Afghanistan President
Hamid Karzai. Much of the future of Afghanistan could be decided by decisions
– or the lack of them – on increasing development support for Afghanistan.