Contents: The Sir! No Sir! blog is an information clearing house, drawing on a wide variety of sources, to track the unfolding history of the new GI Movement, and the wars that brought the movement to life.
Where applicable, parallels will be drawn between the new movement and the Vietnam era movement which was the focus of the film Sir! No Sir!
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This article, by Heidi Vogt, was distributed by the Asspciated Press, October 17, 2009.
KABUL – Afghanistan's election crisis deepened Saturday as President Hamid Karzai resisted international pressure to accept fraud rulings that could force him into a runoff with his main challenger.
Three more American service members were reported killed in separate bombings as the U.S. and its international partners sought a way out of Afghanistan's political impasse, a crisis that threatens the legitimacy of the Afghan government and the future of the U.S.-led military mission.
A U.N.-backed panel had been expected to release findings Saturday from its investigation into allegations of widespread fraud — most of it favoring Karzai — in the Aug. 20 election. Preliminary figures showed Karzai won with more than 54 percent of the vote.
Still, Karzai could face a runoff with his chief rival, Abdullah Abdullah, if the complaints panel invalidates enough ballots to push the incumbent's total below 50 percent.
Announcement of the commission's findings was delayed as commission members spent Saturday in meetings with Afghan election officials and double-checking calculations, according to people familiar with the talks.
Karzai has refused to commit to accepting the panel's findings before they're released, even though his campaign staff has expressed confidence that the president will remain above 50 percent, eliminating the need for a runoff.
Karzai's stand has raised concern that he may challenge the findings, further delaying proclamation of a winner or the scheduling a runoff.
Afghan law declares the U.N.-dominated Electoral Complaints Commission the final arbiter on fraud allegations. However, Karzai supporters on the separate Independent Election Commission, which must order a runoff, have argued that the partial recount is beyond the normal complaint process and that the U.N.-backed panel does not have the final say.
A second round balloting must be held before the coming of winter, which traditionally begins in mid-November. Once heavy snows fall in the mountain passes, a runoff would have to wait until spring, leaving the country in political limbo for months as the Taliban gains strength.
Fearing the political crisis will worsen, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown have telephoned both Karzai and Abdullah in recent days to express concern over the impasse.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, U.S. Democratic Sen. John Kerry and former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, were all in Kabul on Saturday for talks with Afghan leaders.
Kerry's trip was planned before the electoral crisis, but he told the candidates "about the need for a legitimate outcome," according to a U.S. Embassy official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
A statement by the French Foreign Ministry said Kouchner traveled to Kabul "in the context of tension" brought on by the disputed election and urged all parties "to respect" the review process in the interest of the country.
At the same time, envoys were urging both candidates to strike a power-sharing deal to avoid a potentially divisive and costly second vote.
Officials familiar with the talks say the two sides are far apart on details, and it was unclear whether a power-sharing deal would be constitutional. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the issue is sensitive.
"They want us to establish a strong government, a coalition government," said Mohamed Mohin Murstal, a member of parliament and a Karzai supporter. "Karzai has agreed that after the announcement of the results, he will give the opportunity for all political personalities to be involved in government — but not before."
Karzai's campaign spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president is "not going to compromise the results of the elections into any sort of political deal."
Abdullah's campaign manager, Satar Murad, said his team was focused on finalizing the election and "we're not going to respond until we have that."
The political crisis coincides with a sharp rise in fighting.
A NATO statement said two U.S. troops died Friday in a bombing in eastern Afghanistan. A third U.S. service member died the same day in a bombing in the south.
Their deaths bring to 28 the number of American service members killed in Afghanistan this month, according to an Associated Press count.
This report, by Nasrine Gross, was posted to Juan Cole's Informed Comment, October 7, 2009
Friends & Colleagues,
I have just returned from Kabul. And I am shocked how little the extent of fraud in the presidential elections is understood outside Afghanistan. In this regard I have some data that I would like to share.
During the summer and up until I left a few days ago I worked as a volunteer for Dr. Abdullah’s campaign. I was impressed with how well the campaign was being conducted with so many experienced, educated and prominent Afghans as well as eager and dedicated young men and women, but I was stunned by how much people were seeking Dr. Abdullah. In Kabul alone, on a daily basis, around 10,000 persons came to the campaign headquarters in Char-rahi Shahid, and when Dr. Abdullah was in the office in Char-rahi Ansari, he met with about 2,000 people. The office was open twenty-four hours and campaign workers and Dr. Abdullah himself saw people and/or attended to other work, very often until after 3 a.m. I was enormously proud of my people, most of whom only have the experience of the last two elections (presidential 2004, and parliamentary 2005) to be so gung-ho on this process of democracy and instinctively doing it right.
I worked in Dr. Abdullah’s office and so the multitudes that I ran into, and I really mean multitudes, gave me a new perspective on my country: From every part of Afghanistan, from every ethnic, religious, linguistic and locality group, from every political persuasion, from men, women, old, young, poor, rich, educated and illiterate, people came in droves. In those hot summer days, especially when electricity would go off and the fan would stop running, sometimes there were more than fifteen people in my office waiting to see their candidate, in a space of no more than 14 feet by 9 feet! They were also in every corner of that house turned office, in the corridors standing, in the lawns sitting and squatting, in the rooms in the outhouses lying on mattresses, on chairs in the waiting rooms inside the building, in the dining area, in the utility room, in the cook’s quarters, there were human bodies, turban’ed, burqa’ed, veiled, suited, in groups, chaperoned, or in single file, but there were people - - as if all of a sudden they had realized they had a real choice and flood gates had burst open, they were rushing to see Dr. Abdullah! I could not hear my own thoughts; such were the din of their presence! I got to learn a lot of Pashto, some Uzbeki, heard a lot of Noorestani, many dialects of Hazaragi, and many other languages. I met so many more people from so many other places and provinces and of course so many women! Ah, it was tiring but also a real treat to be part of this wonderful sea of humanity stumbling over itself to do something right!
And then there was the campaign trail that I did not participate in but heard about from my office mate who was in charge of the foreign press and went to every pit stop with the candidate - - and brought me stories and photos for the website. When we had Jalalabad, we thought ‘oh wow!’ and upon his return, gave our candidate a standing ovation over lunch (at 3:30 pm!) But then Herat happened where it took him more than two hours to go a distance that normally takes twenty minutes and for several subsequent days, the cuts and scratches on his fingertips to his upper arms were witness to the pull of the thousands who had thronged his motorcade and had clasped him in welcoming gestures! Well, we were elated and could not find words for it but knew that this was a turning point in the campaign, that our dreams were going to have more flesh, that the foreign press was really talking about it. And then, the thousands in Paktia, Paktika, Bamiyan, Ghor, Pul-e Khomri, and in Kandahar three thousand men and one thousand women met him in separate rallies, the same city where Mr. Karzai was received by 500 mostly complaining people! By the time Mazar rolled around with over one hundred thousand persons, we had gotten used to it: Dr. Abdullah had transcended all molds of Afghan leaders, candidates and elections, people were rallying around him like their long lost guiding light, embodying all their hopes for change, for the future, for dignity that trust in tomorrow brings. It was giddying and we did not mind the twenty hour days - - I remember one night - - actually morning at 3:30 am, my brain had gone to mush but Dr. Abdullah was still going strong!
On Election Day and afterwards I worked specifically on 8 provinces: Paktia, Paktika, Khost, Ghazni, Kandahar, Helmand, Zabul and Urozgan. It is in regard to these 8 provinces that I am enclosing some of my findings.
1) For my base data I used the data provided by the Independent Election Commission (IEC) for each province. Because I had received many calls during the Election Day from these provinces about problems with polling areas and people not participating, I used the IEC province and polling center data and met with our representatives from these provinces. Specifically, I wanted to know whether a polling center was open or closed, and what the problems were in the polling centers regardless of their being open or closed. To make sure that I had good data, I met separately with different people from each province and double checked and triple checked what they reported (I am speechless that these people worked with me in the most professional manner despite the fact that the sense of betrayal, insult, anger, humiliation, shame and disbelief was eating away at their very soul and many of them, grown men and women alike would uncontrollably shed tears when reporting the situation to me echoing what one of them had said ‘I only had my vote and he (Karzai) stole it from me; I feel like my person has been violated!’
The results of these verifications I have compiled in large Excel tables for each of the 8 provinces. I also made a smaller aggregate table. I am sending you this table which shows that in these 8 provinces there were over 1,680 polling centers (each consisting of many polling stations) and 56% of them were closed and 73% had problems. The table also shows the problems in each province, as reported by these witnesses and workers. 2) After the IEC started posting the results of the polls I took one of the IEC partial data (I think it was at 71% of total polling stations) and subtracted the votes reported from closed polling centers. The results were phenomenal. Only a very partial list of polling centers in each province, totaling 120 centers, showed the extent of fraud clearly: a) in terms of total votes for Mr. Karzai, b) the percentage of votes for Mr. Karzai vis-à-vis the total votes cast, and, c) in terms of the total votes reported versus the total estimated voter population in any polling center.
Here, I am sending the partial list of only one province, Kandahar, where you can see that the IEC Pro-Karzai votes are over 45,000 and those reported from closed polling centers amount to over 31,000 of them! You can also see that in several of the polling centers the votes reported are more than 100% of the total estimated voter population of the area. How can that be when there was such a bad security situation in all of Kandahar that day? In several polling centers you can see that the percent of the vote for Mr. Karzai is above 70%. We know that extremely few women, perhaps as little as one hundred women in the whole of the province went to vote. Assuming that not every woman in that center had registered to vote, this is an impossibility to have over 70% of an entire population consisting of males! You can also see that in several places 100% of vote went to Mr. Karzai. Again, how could there be not even one vote against Mr. Karzai in a province that has seen so much conflict and where so much criticism of Mr. Karzai’s family exists? These trends are very evident both across the entire province and in all the other 8 provinces that I dealt with.
3) I also have a copy of a letter the campaign headquarters sent to the Election Complaints Commission (ICC). This letter describes the types of systematic fraud we had uncovered until then including the computer fraud. In this particular type of fraud, through hard core programming of the system, all candidates were beneficiaries, only that Mr. Karzai was by a much larger multiplier than the rest - - so some of the fraud attributed to Dr. Abdullah is actually Mr. Karzai’s people trying to be smart! (I can send you a copy of this letter if you so wish.)
4) Finally, since one day after the election, droves of people from each province of Afghanistan have been coming to Kabul to present evidence of fraud, report their eyewitness and meet with Dr. Abdullah regarding a course of action to redress the wrong that has been done to them. Sometimes they come in tens, but most often they come in hundreds. Usually, they hold press conferences. Dr. Abdullah keeps asking these disgruntled voters to keep calm, to wait for the ICC to complete its work, to have faith.
A few days ago, more than six thousand of these people coming from 33 provinces of Afghanistan (for the 34th province, Kabul, people were already there) met with Dr. Abdullah at Kabul’s Uranus Hotel. Together they passed a resolution. I have translated it and am sending it to you as well. You will see that these people are reasonable, rational and intent on success for Afghanistan and its friends and allies.
I hope that this documentation will shed better light not only on the extent of fraud and the premeditated and planned nature of it but also on the desire of Afghan people to see their voice recognized, and to help the international community make the right choice - - for Afghanistan and for the world at large. My people want that we must not discard the real votes; that we must not sanction fraud; that we must honor the right of the people to choose. This is the sure way to building security, stability and peace!
I know it is my right I am talking about; but make no mistake, it is also the path for peace and success for all our friends around the world, not the least of whom are the men and women of the Armed Forces of the United States and other countries fighting the Taliban, Al Qaida and who knows who else in Afghanistan!
I assure you that no calamity would befall Afghanistan or the world if the right, democratic path is taken: There will be no rejection or revolt by the Pashtun population (Working with Pashtuns from these 8 provinces I know for a fact that a majority of the Pashtuns did not vote for Mr. Karzai; their vote was stolen from them for one candidate). The non-Pashtuns will not feel that their vote was squandered. The enemies of Afghanistan will receive a loud and clear message that the world is on the side of Afghanistan as are the Afghans. And, those countries and organizations aiding the enemies of Afghanistan will realize that their advantage is to approach Afghanistan in a different manner.
This article, by Simon Tisdall, was originally published in The Guardian, September 7, 2009
Afghanistan's election debacle has increased the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers
Hopes that a successful Afghan presidential election would assist western efforts to secure, stabilise and develop the country recede with every percentage point that is added to Hamid Karzai's tally. Karzai is said to have obtained 48.6% of the vote against 31.7% for his nearest rival with about 25% of ballots still to count. Only a small miracle or a massive counter-fraud can now stop him surpassing the 50% threshold required for re-election.
Karzai's looming "victory" is viewed with gloom in western capitals. It is believed, and not only by his opponents, to have been achieved via blatant, systematic, indefensible vote-rigging, bribery and intimidation. It was already tainted by pre-poll pacts between Karzai and notorious warlords and drug-traffickers. It was facilitated by the collusion of corrupt provincial officials afraid of losing their jobs. And it followed US and British failure to find a viable alternative candidate, or to install an Afghan "chief executive" or a western diplomatic satrap, to curb Karzai's powers.
The election debacle has thus increased, rather than eased, the crushing weight of intractable problems besetting western policymakers and soldiers struggling to make sense of Afghanistan. These difficulties are approaching critical mass as civilian deaths continue, western casualties mount and public support slides. Notwithstanding Gordon Brown's Afghan plan, enunciated last Friday, pressing decisions about what to do next, and how, will be made in the Oval Office, not Downing Street.
Barack Obama faces no shortage of advice, primarily from his top Afghan commander, General Stanley McChrystal, who has been reviewing strategy. McChrystal's broad conclusions – giving priority to protecting the Afghan people and enhancing government and civilian capacity – have already been leaked. Decisions on more specific proposals, such as raising US troop levels by 40-45,000 to well over 100,000 and pushing for more Nato troops, too, are now imminent.
Raising force levels again (he already sent an extra 21,000 earlier this year) represents an enormous political risk for Obama and one he is not in particularly good shape to take. His approval ratings have fallen faster than any first term president since Gerald Ford, he faces increasing resistance to his domestic agenda, notably healthcare reform, and the Afghan imbroglio is being recast by conservatives as Obama's "war of choice" rather than the "war of necessity" that he describes.
As in Britain, there is no consensus over war aims: is it self-defence, is it democracy promotion, is it nation-building, or is it about smashing the heroin trade? Few seem to agree. Among US allies there is diminishing appetite for the fight; it has become a divisive election issue in Germany while Japan's new government has pledged to end its involvement. On top of that, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and defence secretary Robert Gates freely admit time is running short to turn things around. Congressional Democrats, mindful of next year's mid-term polls, heartily agree.
Speaking last week, Mullen suggested the worsening security situation in Afghanistan must be reversed within the next 12 to 18 months or else the game would be up. "I think it is serious and it is deteriorating and I've said over the last couple of years that the Taliban insurgency has gotten better, more sophisticated," Mullen said. He spoke after a Washington Post-ABC News poll found most Americans felt the war was not worth fighting. Yet another international conference on Afghanistan, as proposed by Brown and Germany's Angela Merkel, is unlikely to change this dynamic.
Amid myriad solicited and unsolicited suggestions, Obama's choice boils down to two options: take full ownership of the war and dig in for the long haul, or lower one's sights and walk away as quick as is decent.
Opinions about which way he should jump vary hugely. George Will, honorary archdeacon of American conservative columnists, surprised his fans last week by advocating retreat. Washington should wash its hands of a country where travelling around is "like walking through the Old Testament", he said. "Forces should be substantially reduced to serve a comprehensively reviewed policy: America should do only what can be done from offshore, using intelligence, drones, cruise missiles, air strikes and small, potent special forces units, concentrating on the porous 1,500 mile border with Pakistan, a nation that actually matters."
Will's offshore strategy ignored the fact that Afghanistan is landlocked – but it was clear what he meant.
Others urge Obama to roll his sleeves up and get stuck in. "Is winning in Afghanistan in the US vital national interest? I believe it is," said Thomas McClanahan in the Kansas City Star. "Pulling out would hand the jihadists a triumph and once again open up Afghanistan as a launching pad for terrorist strikes." Bruce Riedel, an Obama adviser, and Michael O'Hanlon of the Brookings Institution were at pains in the Wall Street Journal to emphasise western achievements, including economic growth and falling support for the Taliban, that they said should not be lightly squandered.
Just how high Afghanistan still stands in American consciousness, and why, was illustrated by a timely Chicago Tribune editorial. It complained Obama had not "spent enough time reminding Americans that an Afghanistan controlled by the Taliban and al-Qaida would regain its role as a terrorism hatchery". September would be crucial for the US debate on what to do, it added. "As that plays out, none of us should forget how that lawless country tolerated the development of one particularly heinous terror plot. It came to fruition eight years ago this week, on the 11th of the month."
This editorial, was originally published in the Washington Post, September 3, 2009
LAST MONTH we expected that Afghanistan's elections would mark a modest step forward for the country. Now it appears that they could be a major reverse. Though the election campaign was positive in many respects, Election Day itself is emerging as a disaster of relatively low turnout and massive irregularities -- including ballot-box-stuffing on behalf of both incumbent President Hamid Karzai and his leading opponent. Unless the fraud can be reversed or repaired through a U.N.-backed complaints commission or a runoff vote, Mr. Karzai may emerge as a crippled winner, his already weak and corruption-plagued administration facing further discredit or even violent protests.
This grim prospect is particularly worrisome because the United States and its allies were counting on the election to provide the Afghan government with a new lease on public support. They hoped the vote would be followed by a drive to reform both national and local administrations and extend their authority to areas where only the Taliban has been present. That construction of government capacity -- call it nation-building if you like -- is essential to the counterinsurgency strategy adopted by U.S. commanders during the last year and embraced by President Obama in March.
Unfortunately for the Obama administration, the bad election news has arrived at the same time as a report by the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, that portrays a "serious" military situation in which Taliban fighters are growing more capable and Afghan and international forces lack the military and civilian resources they need to regain the initiative. Gen. McChrystal is expected to ask Mr. Obama to dispatch more American troops next year -- perhaps tens of thousands of reinforcements to the 68,000 U.S. troops already deployed or on the way. The bad election and heavier U.S. casualties this summer, including more than 100 deaths, mean that Mr. Obama will probably come under considerable pressure to deny the additional troops and change course.
The Democratic left and some conservatives have begun to argue that the Afghan war is unwinnable and that U.S. interests can be secured by a much smaller military campaign directed at preventing al-Qaeda from regaining a foothold in the country. Sen. Russell Feingold (D-Wis.) has proposed a timetable for withdrawal -- the same demand the left rallied around when the war in Iraq was going badly. Its most cogent argument is a negative one: that the weakness of the Afghan government and the general backwardness of the country mean that the counterinsurgency strategy, with its emphasis on political and economic development, can't work.
That might prove true. But the problem with the critics' argument is that, while the strategy they oppose has yet to be tried, the alternatives they suggest already have been -- and they led to failure in both Afghanistan and Iraq. For years, U.S. commanders in both countries focused on killing insurgents and minimizing the numbers and exposure of U.S. troops rather than pacifying the country. The result was that violence in both countries steadily grew, until a counterinsurgency strategy was applied to Iraq in 2007. As for limiting U.S. intervention in Afghanistan to attacks by drones and Special Forces units, that was the strategy of the 1990s, which, as chronicled by the Sept. 11 commission, paved the way for al-Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington. Given that the Taliban and al-Qaeda now also aim to overturn the government of nuclear-armed Pakistan, the risks of a U.S. withdrawal far exceed those of continuing to fight the war -- even were the result to be continued stalemate.
Yet if Mr. Obama provides adequate military and civilian resources, there's a reasonable chance the counterinsurgency approach will yield something better than stalemate, as it did in Iraq. The Taliban insurgency is not comparable to those that earlier fought the Soviets and the British in Afghanistan. Surveys show that support for its rule is tiny, even in its southern base. Not everything in Mr. Karzai's government is rotten: U.S. officials have reliable allies in some key ministries and provincial governorships, and the training of the Afghan army -- accelerated only recently -- is going relatively well. Stabilizing the country will require many years of patient effort and the pain of continued American casualties. Yet the consequences of any other option are likely to be far more dangerous for this country.
This article, by Gaby Hinsliff and Mark Townsend, was published in The Obserever, September 6, 2009
Gordon Brown faces fresh questions over the war in Afghanistan at this month's Labour party conference, with grassroots activists circulating a motion demanding that troops be withdrawn.
The "contemporary issues motion", which lets grassroots members trigger debates at conference, concludes that "a majority of the public believe the war is unwinnable" and suggests Britain's involvement has fuelled the risk of terrorist attack. It follows damaging criticisms from the ministerial aide Eric Joyce, who resigned last week in protest at the handling of the war.
Lord Soley, former chair of the parliamentary Labour party, predicted that doubts over Afghanistan would come into the open. "I think there will be more people saying what Eric Joyce has said. The Labour party doesn't like war at the best of times."
Soley admitted he had doubts about the Afghan strategy, but said Brown's speech last week had "gone a long way towards answering the concerns". However, he said Brown still had more to do to win the argument.
This week the prime minister faces a new dilemma over whether to push for Hamid Karzai, the incumbent president, to face a second round of voting following August's disputed elections. Officials are expected to confirm within days that Karzai got the 50% of the vote needed to avoid a runoff, but allegations of fraud suggest the result may not be reliable. British officials signalled that patience was running out with the Karzai administration, but are not seeking a change. A Foreign Office source said: "There are a number of highly questionable characters in Karzai's government that we continue to have concerns about."
Joyce yesterday broadened his attack, telling the Observer that the government should be pressing Washington harder both for early withdrawal and a tougher approach to Karzai: "We are not in a position to make the Americans make the Afghans have a second round [of voting], but we should have much greater clarity about this."
The troop withdrawal motion is compiled by the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy, backed by Labour CND and the Campaign Group of leftwing MPs. Motions are not binding on Brown, but represent a serious warning shot in an election year.
This article, by Kim Sengupta was published in The Independent, Augiust 31, 2009.
The commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan will ask for 20,000 more international troops as part of his new strategic plan for the alliance's war against a resurgent Taliban, The Independent has learned.
The demand from General Stanley McChrystal will almost certainly lead to more British soldiers being sent to the increasingly treacherous battlegrounds of Helmand, the Taliban heartland, despite growing opposition to the war.
General McChrystal, tasked with turning the tide in the battle against the insurgency on the ground, has given a presentation of his draft report to senior Afghan government figures in which he also proposes raising the size of the Afghan army and police force.
But the request for troop reinforcements will come at a time of intensifying public debate about the role of the Nato mission. Last month saw a record number of troop deaths and injuries in a conflict that has claimed more than 200 British soldiers since the start of the US-led invasion in 2001. British losses rose sharply last month with 22 deaths, making it the bloodiest month for UK forces since the Falklands war. August has been the deadliest month for American troops in the eight-year war. Most of the deaths have come from lethal roadside bombs that Western troops appear unable to combat effectively. For the first time, the American public now views the fight against the Taliban as unwinnable, according to the most recent opinion polls.
The conduct of the Afghan government has not helped the mood on either side of the Atlantic. While US, British and other foreign troops are dying in what is supposedly a mission to rid Afghanistan of al-Qa'ida militants and make the country safe for democracy, the incumbent President stands accused of forging alliances with brutal warlords and overseeing outright fraud in an attempt to "steal" the national elections, the results of which are still being counted.
Last week, General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command, intervened against a backdrop of heightened debate about the UK's military role. He stressed that the objective of the war was "to ensure that Afghanistan does not again become a sanctuary for al-Qa'ida and other extremists".
According to General McChrystal's draft plan, the number of Afghan troops would rise from 88,000 to 250,000, and the police force from 82,000 to 160,000 by 2012. These increases are higher than expected, with previous suggestions that the totals would be raised to 134,000 and 120,000 for the army and police respectively.
The US commander will, however, ask other Nato countries to send further reinforcements and will travel shortly to European capitals to discuss the issue. It is widely expected that the UK will send up to 1,500 more troops. At the same time, a force of 700 sent to help provide security for the Afghan elections last week on a temporary basis will become a permanent presence.
Following the withdrawal from Iraq, British military commanders, backed by the then Defence Secretary, John Hutton, had recommended in the spring that up to 2,500 extra troops could be sent to Afghanistan. However, following lobbying from the Treasury, Gordon Brown agreed to only the temporary deployment of 700. Criticism of the decision by senior officers has led, it is claimed, to Downing Street changing its stance.
General McChrystal, who replaced Gen David McKiernan as Nato chief in Afghanistan earlier this year, was originally due to produce his strategic report this month, but decided to wait until after the Afghan presidential election. According to Western and Afghan sources he is continuing to take soundings from various quarters and the finalised document is due out after it becomes clear whether or not a second round of voting is needed to decide the outcome of the poll.
As part of an initial troop surge overseen by General McChrystal, the US has already committed to boosting its forces from 31,000 to 68,000 this year. However Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan was told by commanders in Afghanistan last week that those numbers would not be enough for what is being viewed as defining months of fighting to come.
In his meeting with Afghan officials, General McChrystal is reported to have stated that the extra troops would be needed to enforce a new policy of maintaining a presence in the areas captured from insurgents. This will provide security for residents and allow reconstruction and development.
Other Nato nations have the option of focusing on the training of Afghan security forces. However, say American officials, failure by Nato countries to "step up to the plate" would mean the shortfall would be covered by the US.
Diplomatic sources have also revealed that plans are being drawn up to sign a "compact" between Afghanistan and the US which will reiterate Washington's commitment to the security of Afghanistan while the Afghan government pledges to combat corruption and reinforce governance. Unlike previous international agreements over Afghanistan, the compact will be bilateral, without any other governments being involved. The timing of the agreement is due to coincide with a visit by Mr Karzai to New York, if, as expected, he emerges the election winner.
This article, by Michael Evans, was published in The Times (London), Augiust 28, 2009.
Just 150 Afghan voters dared to go to the ballot box in the area of Helmand province where British soldiers sacrificed their lives to secure a safe election day, it was revealed yesterday.
The figures were released as the British Ambassador to Kabul admitted that troops could be engaged in combat in Afghanistan for five more years.
The Electoral Commission in Kabul said that early estimates of voting in the former Taleban stronghold of Babaji, north of Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, indicated that few exercised their right to vote last Thursday. Several thousand people could have voted.
Four of the ten troops who died in Operation Panther’s Claw, the five-week offensive to drive the Taleban out of central Helmand before the presidential election, were killed in or around Babaji.
The ambassador, Mark Sedwill, did not deny the low vote count in Babaji, although he said that it was too early to be sure. He said: “Panther’s Claw, although timed to try to improve security for people to move around for the election, was not specifically itself about the election.”
However, the publicly stated aim of Panther’s Claw before it was launched on June 19 was to make the highly populated area between Lashkar Gah, Babaji and Gereshk safe for 80,000 Afghans to go to the polls without being intimidated by the Taleban.
Defence officials said that, if confirmed, the voting figures for Babaji would be “very disappointing”.
Mr Sedwill said that there was some anecdotal evidence that people from outlying areas travelled into more secure areas such as Lashkar Gah to vote “because they felt more confident in doing so”.
Speaking via video link from Kabul to a briefing at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, he said that turnout was expected to be lower than the last presidential election and that he accepted that Taleban intimidation had an impact.
Air Vice-Marshal Andy Pulford, Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff (Operations), insisted that whether the voter turnout was low or not British troops had made dramatic progress in Panther’s Claw. “British Forces know exactly what they fought for,” he said. “They have seen with their own eyes the improved quality of life that security now enjoyed by thousands of Afghans in Babaji has delivered.”
Nick Harvey, the Liberal Democrat defence spokesman, said: “If it’s as pathetically small as that [150 in Babaji] then one of the stated objectives [of Panther’s Claw] has not been met.”
Mr Sedwill’s prediction that the campaign could last another five years appeared to clash with the views of Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, who said ten days ago that the troops could begin to step back from the front line within “a year or so”, to be replaced by Afghan units.
The ambassador indicated that it would be between three and five years before Afghan soldiers were trained and ready to take over the security role in Helmand.
In the three years that British troops have been fighting the Taleban in Helmand, 202 members of the Armed Forces have died and about 800 have been injured in battle, 235 of them “very seriously” or “seriously”.