Afghan withdrawal date `emboldens` Taliban

A report attacks the political rhetoric of timelines for Afghan withdrawal.

Last Updated: Sep 04, 2010, 14:07 PM IST

London: A report, endorsed by an American defence expert and retired general, has claimed that the US and Britain`s decision to set a troops withdrawal date for Afghanistan "emboldens" the Taliban to fight on.

Gen Jack Keane, who was one of the prime movers behind the Iraq surge of 2007, has backed a foreign policy think tank paper that warns talk of Western retreat from the country only "emboldens Afghan insurgents", the Daily Telegraph reported on Friday.

The report attacked the political rhetoric of timelines for withdrawal which played into the hands of the Taliban and undermined the NATO military effort.

"It emboldens insurgents to continue fighting, as they are presented with a survival target to reach," wrote the report`s author George Grant, a counter-terrorism expert. Early withdrawal would be a "tremendous betrayal" of Afghan people.

The report, published by the Britain-based Henry Jackson Society, cautions that Afghan people are now frightened of supporting the Kabul government as they would be labelled collaborators once Western forces leave.

"The setting of arbitrary and concrete withdrawal dates will convince the Afghan people that to support the government-side now will invite retribution at the hands of the Taliban after Coalition forces withdraw."

Gen Keane, a close fried of Gen David Petraeus, the new US commander in Afghanistan, said the report was "unique and invaluable".

The paper, which comes just days before a significant parliamentary debate on the war, added: "The worst option that the governments of Coalition forces could take is to pledge an unconditional withdrawal from Afghanistan without understanding that the current strategy is both viable and necessary.”

British Prime Minister David Cameron`s pledge to remove British forces before 2015 has already been criticised by Gen Sir Mike Jackson, former chief of the General Staff, who said it would mean the campaign could be "hostage to fortune in being too pedantic about the date".

There is also growing concern over US President Barack Obama`s insistence that troops should begin withdrawing by July next year.

The paper said talk of deadlines created "the very real danger of generating precisely the climate of fear and uncertainty amongst ordinary Afghans."

The report also criticised the early conduct of the campaign which focused "on the elimination of insurgents" without given attention to what caused the insurgency.

Without the support of the Afghan people it could never be won that`s why the current counter-insurgency strategy of providing security for population centres needed to be given time to work.

The paper, entitled Succeeding in Afghanistan, urges political and military leaders to commit to the "long haul" and cease talk of withdrawal dates.

"Defeat in Afghanistan is not inevitable" it concluded. "On the contrary, if the United Kingdom, the United States and others retain their commitment to Afghanistan, and continue to pursue the counterinsurgency approach being applied at present, then success will not be such a distant prospect as so many seem to think."

IANS