British ambassador warns against Afghan surge

Posted in Afghanistan | 02-Oct-08 | Author: Jerome Starkey| Source: The Independent

British soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force sit on top of their armoured vehicle at Camp Bastion in Helmand Province in August 2008.

Britain's ambassador to Afghanistan has warned the international mission is failing and that sending more troops will only make things worse, according to a top-level telegram leaked from Kabul.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles told a senior French diplomat that "American strategy is destined to fail," and he warned that increasing troop levels would serve only to "identify us even more clearly as an occupying force and multiply the number of targets".

Instead he urged his Gallic counterparts to lobby the US presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, to avoid "getting bogged down in Afghanistan" after the next election.

Details of a confidential conversation between Sir Sherard and the deputy French ambassador, Francois Fitou, were relayed to France's President Nicholas Sarkozy in an encrypted cable last month. But the memo was leaked to Le Canard Enchaîné, a respected French newspaper, which published it yesterday.

In M. Fitou's account of their meeting Sir Sherard said: "The current situation is bad. The security situation is getting worse. So is corruption and the Government has lost all trust. Our public statements should not delude us over the fact that the insurrection, while incapable of winning a military victory, nevertheless has the capacity to make life increasingly difficult, including in the capital."

"The presence — especially the military presence — of the coalition is part of the problem, not the solution. The foreign forces are ensuring the survival of a regime which would collapse without them. In doing so, they are slowing down and complicating an eventual exit from the crisis (which, moreover, will probably be dramatic)."

It comes as America's top General in Afghanistan joined a chorus of US voices calling for more troops.

General David McKiernon, the commander of the Nato-led International Assistance Force, said: "Until we get to what I call a tipping point where the lead for security can be in the hands of the Afghan Army and the Afghan Police, there is going to be a need for the international community to provide military capabilities."

Military sources in Helmand have revealed US plans to send at least 12,000 American troops into southern Afghanistan. But officials know the details of their deployment will rest on the next American president.

Sir Sherard told Mr Fitou that while Britain had no choice but to support US policy, they should try and persuade Washington to change tack.

"In the short term we should dissuade the American presidential candidates from getting more bogged down in Afghanistan," he was quoted as saying.

British officials in Kabul refused to comment on the details of the French telegram, but an embassy spokeswoman insisted the quotes that appeared in Canard were "not an accurate reflection of the ambassador's views".

Nonetheless, it echoes what many British and Western diplomats have been saying privately for months.