Robert Gates Warns of ‘Hard Afghan Fight Ahead’

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

BBC News

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US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has warned that “hard fighting” lies ahead, in his first visit to Afghanistan since the launch of a major offensive there.

After meeting military chiefs overseeing the anti-Taliban operation in southern Helmand province, Mr Gates also said some progress had been made.

Preparations have already begun to secure control of neighbouring Kandahar province, military commanders said.

Additional troops ordered by US President Obama have begun arriving.

About 6,000 of the 30,000 extra forces assigned to Afghanistan have already arrived in Afghanistan. Thousands more are due to arrive over the next few months.
But Mr Gates warned: “People still need to understand there is some very hard fighting, very hard days ahead.”

Kandahar target

The offensive in Helmand, targeting the Taliban stronghold of Marjah, has been described as the biggest operation since the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 – it involves Nato, US and Afghan troops.

But officials have recently hinted that the current action in Marjah is a “prelude” to a bigger operation.

Nato commander Gen Stanley McChrystal has made it clear that Kandahar is the next priority for troops, once enough reinforcements have arrived.

The general said that, although the district was not under Taliban control, it was “under a menacing Taliban presence, particularly in the districts around it”.

The BBC’s Chris Morris in Kabul says that, as was the case with Marjah, international commanders are making little effort to conceal plans about where they intend to take the fight to the Taliban.

There is a vast swathe of territory across southern Kandahar and Helmand provinces from which forces want to drive the Taliban before re-establishing a functioning civilian infrastructure, our correspondent says.

But, he adds, military operations are deeply unpopular with local people and military commanders are aware of the need to get the balance right.

Afghan police and government agencies have already started to deploy in and around Marjah but officials warn that the region is not yet totally free from Taliban influence.

On Monday Mr Gates discussed the progress of the operation with Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

On Sunday President Karzai visited the former Taliban stronghold of Marjah for the first time since the beginning of the offensive in Helmand.

He promised elders that the town would be rebuilt and appealed to local people for support.

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Karzai to Pay Taliban to Lay Down Their Arms

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheedullah Massoud (AFP)

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Afghan President Hamid Karzai waves as he leaves 10 Downing Street after his meeting with Britain’s Prime Minister Gordon Brown, London January 27, 2010.  

REUTERS/Kevin Coombs 

KABUL — Afghan President Hamid Karzai unveiled an ambitious Western-funded plan Friday to offer money and jobs to tempt Taliban fighters to lay down their arms in an effort to quell a crippling insurgency.

His comments to the BBC came as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates described the Taliban as part of Afghanistan’ s “political fabric”, but said any future role would depend on insurgents laying down their weapons.

Karzai’s plan echoed similar proposals by Washington to try and bring low and mid-level extremists back into mainstream society, but the leadership of Islamist insurgent groups remain hostile to negotiations.

Militants led by the Taliban movement have been waging an increasingly deadly rebellion against the Afghan government and foreign troops since a US-led invasion ousted the Taliban regime from power in late 2001.

“We know as the Afghan people we must have peace at any cost,” Karzai said in the television interview aired Friday ahead of an international conference on Afghanistan in London next week, where he will present the plan.

“Those that we approach to return will be provided with the abilities to work, to find jobs, to have protection, to resettle in their own communities.”

The Taliban gives its foot-soldiers higher salaries than the Afghan government can afford to pay its forces, and the president said his project would have international backing to provide the necessary funds.

Hardline Taliban supporters, who were members of Al-Qaeda or other terror groups, would not be accepted in the scheme, Karzai added.

The Taliban leadership have repeatedly rebuffed peace talks in the past, and on Friday a spokesman for the militia, Zabihullah Mujahid, reiterated that they would not negotiate with Karzai’s government.

“Our only and main goal is the freedom and independence of our country. We cannot be bought by money and bounties. The Taliban will not sell themselves off for cash,” Mujahid said, reacting to Karzai’s comments.

“We insist on our previous stance that we will not negotiate with this government. Any negotiation now would mean accepting being a slave of America. Our goal is enforcing an Islamic government and withdrawal of foreign forces.”

Insurgent leader Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who commands another radical Islamist group Hizb-e-Islami Afghanistan, would come to the table with the US and Afghan government, but only under strict conditions, his spokesman Zubair Sediqi said.

“All the foreign forces must leave Afghanistan unconditionally. A permanent ceasefire must be enforced. All prisoners from all side must be freed. An interim administration must take charge for one year,” Sediqi told AFP.

Karzai has in the past urged the United States to back talks with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammad Omar but Washington has resisted negotiations with any figures linked to wider extremist groups such as Al-Qaeda.

On a visit to Pakistan — which has come under intense US pressure to do more to wipe out Islamist extremists along its border with Afghanistan — Gates said the Taliban had to prove they wanted a role in Afghanistan’s future.

“The question is whether they are prepared to play a legitimate role in the political fabric of Afghanistan going forward, meaning participating in elections, meaning not assassinating local officials and killing families,” he told reporters.

Gates had said earlier that some lower-ranking insurgents might be open to making peace with Kabul, but warned that the senior-most Taliban leaders would unlikely reconcile with Afghanistan’s government.

In Washington on Thursday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton unveiled a long-term non-military strategy to stabilize Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The strategy aims to to rebuild the Afghan farm sector, improve governance and bring extremists back into mainstream society.

It complements a military strategy in which President Barack Obama announced on December 1 he would deploy another 30,000 US troops to Afghanistan.

Extra troop commitments from NATO allies are expected to take to around 150,000 the total number of foreign troops operating in Afghanistan under US and NATO command in the coming year.

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