"General Craddock, an American, accused Nato of demonstrating a 'wavering' political will in Afghanistan. Although he has spoken out on a number of occasions about the need for more alliance troops, his remarks yesterday underlined the growing alarm over the way the campaign is going, following a summer resurgence by the Taleban. More than 230 foreign soldiers have been killed by insurgents in Afghanistan so far this year, most of them from bomb attacks.
General Craddock told an audience at the London-based Royal United Services Institute: 'It is this wavering political will that impedes operational progress and brings into question the relevance of the alliance here in the 21st century.'"
War correspondent Nir Rosen, writing in "Rolling Stone," paints a bleak -- but strangely elegiac and optimistic -- picture of the chances of military success against the Taliban.
"At the height of the occupation, the Soviets had 120,000 of their own troops in Afghanistan, buttressed by roughly 300,000 Afghan troops. The Americans and their allies, by contrast, have 65,000 troops on the ground, backed up by only 137,000 Afghan security forces -- and they face a Taliban who enjoy the support of a well-funded and highly organized network of Islamic extremists."
Forget the numbers for a second, though. Rosen does a wonderful job of offering a glimpse of what is happening on the ground in Afghanistan. Embedded with Taliban fighters, he writes about their military legacy, the deep divisions over tactics and ideology, and the hard choices many tribes, or communities, make on the ground in deciding whether to side with the Taliban or the Afghan authorities.
It seems apparent that the Taliban inspire more fear. They carry RPGs and mortars, whereas the Afghan police -- increasingly absent, according to Rosen -- carry handguns. But Rosen points to the increasing moderation in some factions of the Taliban (touched on here by one of our Afghan correspondents) with their attempts to win hearts and minds, for instance by allowing girls to go to school.
However unpalatable, some form of negotiation with the Taliban seems to be the only answer -- Rosen certainly seems to come to this conclusion. Senior UN and aid officials all seem to be brushing off other purported solutions: more troops, presidential and parliamentary elections next year.
Are we likely to see a less ideological Taliban emerge? Criminal, undoubtedly vicious, yes; but one less driven by ideology, more concerned with realpolitik, and with more limited strategic aims. Foreign troops out of Afghanistan, yes; a new global caliphate, well, that can wait.
The kind of Taliban perhaps that accepts an embedded American journalist from "Rolling Stone" magazine and doesn't parade him in an orange jumpsuit on CNN. Perhaps, then, it really is time to talk.
-- Luke Allnutt