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Ronald Neumann, the American ambassador to Afghanistan, discusses the worsening security situation in Afghanistan in separate interviews. Neumann is quoted in the New York Times as saying that the United States faces “stark choices” in Afghanistan, adding to the recent chorus of dire warnings being expressed by US officials in Washington on the deteriorating security situation there and the failure of the government in Kabul to project authority. Neumann says that plans drafted in 2002 to train the Afghan army and police force needed to be revamped, and that the country’s security forces need to be expanded, better supplied, and better equipped. He says that the overall effort would take “multiple years” and “multiple billions,” warning that failure to do so would lead to fragmentation of the country. In an interview with Der Speigel, Neumann states that efforts to extend security beyond Kabul and push back the insurgency will “easily” take 10 years. When asked about the next steps to be taken, he replies: “We have to put more guns in the field. Afghans have to believe they can survive in their home at night.” (Neumann 9/26/2006; Rohde and Risen 11/5/2006)
The Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, General Michael V. Hayden, appearing before a hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee to address the current situation in Iraq and Afghanistan, states that the Afghan government’s outreach and provision of security to the country is inadequate. Hayden stresses that the key to making progress in Afghanistan is bolstering security, stating, “The capacity of the government needs to be strengthened to deliver basic services to the population—especially security.” He notes that there are not enough properly trained, equipped, or well-paid security forces in Afghanistan. “Even though the Afghan National Army continues to become larger, stronger, and more experienced, progress has been slow and little progress has been made in constructing an effective Afghan National Police force,” reads his prepared statement. (Senate Armed Services Committee 11/15/2006 )
Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. (Al Jazeera 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera 10/15/2008)
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) presents its report on weapons accountability problems in Afghanistan to a House Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee. The congressionally ordered audit reveals that the US military did not track hundreds of thousands of weapons—over half of the total procured for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF)—between 2004 and 2008. The report expands on an earlier assessment produced by the Pentagon’s Inspector General (see October 24, 2008). The Washington Post quotes subcommittee chairman Rep. John F. Tierney (D-MA) as saying that the failures could lead to American soldiers being killed by insurgents using a weapon purchased by US taxpayers. “That’s what we risk if we were to have tens of thousands of weapons we provided washing around Afghanistan, off the books,” Tierney says in a written statement. (Warrick and Smith 2/12/2009) The audit finds that American military officials did not keep complete records on about 87,000 rifles, pistols, mortars, and other weapons the United States sent to Afghan soldiers and police, nor did they keep reliable records on 135,000 more weapons donated to Afghanistan by 21 countries. The GAO audit also finds:
Inventory controls were lacking for more than a third of the 242,000 light weapons donated to Afghan forces by the United States—a stockpile that includes thousands of AK-47 assault rifles as well as mortars, machine guns, and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Until June 2008, the military did not even take the elementary step of recording the serial numbers of some 46,000 weapons the United States provided to the Afghans, making it impossible to track or identify any that might be in the wrong hands. Serial numbers for the 41,000 other weapons from the United States were recorded, but American military officials had no idea where those weapons were.
American trainers were not following their own rules, finding that weapons were issued to Afghans even when there were concerns about—or evidence of—poor security at weapons depots and corruption by Afghan officials.
Afghan security procedures were so inadequate that weapons supplied to Afghan forces were at “serious risk of theft or loss.” Many of the weapons were left in the care of Afghan-run military depots with a history of desertion, theft, and sub-par security systems that sometimes consist of a wooden door and a padlock. (Government Accountability Office 2/12/2009 )
Senior White House and Pentagon officials tell the New York Times that President Obama is expected to approve a Pentagon plan to vastly expand Afghanistan’s security forces to about 400,000 troops and national police officers: more than twice the forces’ current size. The officials say the plan is part of a broader Afghanistan-Pakistan strategy to fill a void left by the weak central government and to do more to promote stability. The new proposal would authorize a doubling of the army to 260,000 soldiers in addition to around 140,000 police officers, commandos, and border guards. The Times notes that presently the army has 90,000 troops and the Afghan National Police numbers about 80,000 officers.
Program Costs a Concern for Administration Officials - The Times reports that members of Obama’s national security team appeared taken aback by the cost projections which dwarf the budget currently provided to the Afghan government; cost projections to establish and train the forces range from $10 billion to $20 billion over the next six or seven years, and officials have yet to determine costs to sustain the security forces over the long term. Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), chairman of the Armed Services Committee, endorses the goal and justifies the costs of expanding Afghan security forces saying, “The cost is relatively small compared to the cost of not doing it—of having Afghanistan either disintegrate, or fall into the hands of the Taliban, or look as though we are dominating it.”
Concerns over the Power of an Expanded Security Force Dismissed - The former commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan from 2003 to 2005, Lieutenant General David Barno, now the director of Near East and South Asian security studies at National Defense University, dismisses concerns that either the Afghan army or the Ministry of Defense would challenge the authority of the central government in Kabul. Other military analysts cite Pakistan, Egypt, and Turkey as models where the United States supports civilian governments in which military and security forces are at least as powerful as those governments. (Shanker and Schmitt 3/18/2009)
NATO wants to grow the Afghan National Army (ANA) from a force of 80,000 to 270,000 by 2016, an effort described as the heart of Afghan nation-building. “We’re building an army on an industrial scale,” British Brigadier Neil Baverstock tells The Atlantic correspondent Robert Kaplan. This target closely resembles Pentagon proposals for massively increased ANA numbers (see March 18, 2009), but has not been publicly mentioned or explicitly endorsed by the Obama Administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009). Kaplan reports that the American military is leading an effort to establish the Afghan equivalents of West Point and the National Defense University, in addition to basic training and advanced combat schools, a noncommissioned officer academy, an officer candidate school, and a counterinsurgency academy.
Brain Drain and the Threat of Future Coups - Kaplan writes that the budding Afghan military complex threatens to funnel Afghanistan’s educated elite away from civilian and government jobs, thus weakening the state’s capacity to maintain authority and control over the security forces. He suggests that this equation in Afghanistan increases the risk of the country facing African and Latin American-style coups in the future. When this possibility is raised with American generals, they tell Kaplan that the threat of a coup is a risk worth taking if it means more stability in the short term.
Afghan Public Protection Program - While the coalition builds an army from the top down, they also hope to improve security in the provinces and villages from the bottom up through the Afghan Public Protection Program (APPFP). American Brig. Gen. Mark Milley explains that the program recruits, trains, and arms locals across tribal and ethnic lines, making them answerable to provincial governors. A pilot APPFP is being developed in Wardak province, just south of Kabul. Kaplan notes that Wardak’s pro-American governor, Mohammed [Halim] Fidai, is one of a group of governors with whom the Americans are working, in effect, “to circumvent total reliance on Karzai.” (Kaplan 3/24/2009)
President Obama formally announces his administration’s war strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, explicitly linking the two countries in a shared threat assessment requiring a comprehensive regional approach that commits US police and army trainers to Afghanistan, promises an enlargement of Afghan Security Forces, and a requests a boost in funding for Pakistan. The president specifically announces a deployment of 4,000 US troops to train Afghan Army and Police while calling for an accelerated effort to enlarge these forces to an army of 134,000 and a police force of 82,000. The Interagency Policy Group White Paper on the strategy suggests the build-up of Afghan Security Force numbers is only a first step. “Initially this will require a more rapid build-up of the Afghan Army and police up to 134,000 and 82,000 over the next two years, with additional enlargements as circumstances and resources warrant,” reads the paper. (Obama 3/27/2009; Interagency Policy Group 3/27/2009 ) The New York Times, reporting a day in advance of the announcement, notes that the new strategy will not explicitly endorse the request from American commanders to increase the Afghan national security forces to 400,000 as it had reported earlier in the week (see March 18, 2009). (Baker and Shanker 3/26/2009) Commenting later on Obama’s strategy, retired Army Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, one of the chief architects of the nation-building counterinsurgency doctrine, will say that Obama’s troop increase and trainer push falls short and is a merely a “down payment” on what needs to be done to secure Afghanistan (see March 31, 2009).
One of the intellectual godfathers of President Barack Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy and an influential authority on counterinsurgency strategy warns that the White House is dangerously shortchanging efforts to create a viable Afghan Army. Retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, president of the Center for a New American Security think tank, says he is worried that the Obama administration’s commitment to building local forces to secure the country wasn’t given enough emphasis in the president’s AFPAK strategy announcement speech a few days earlier (see March 27, 2009). Speaking at a seminar sponsored by the Foreign Policy Initiative think tank in Washington, Nagl asserts, “The long-term answer has to be an expanded Afghan National Army, and this is the policy I hoped to hear [at the speech] but did not.” He adds that the Afghan National Army, as the country’s most respected institution, must be expanded to 250,000 troops, which closely resembles a reported Pentagon plan to expand the Afghan National Army to 260,000 troops (see March 18, 2009). Nagl refers to Obama’s troop increase and trainer push as a “down payment” on what’s needed to prevent Taliban re-infiltration of the population and keep extremists from taking over Afghanistan. (Lowe 4/3/2009)
A day before the NATO Summit on Afghanistan opens in Strasbourg, France, the New York Times reports that according to American military planners and NATO-nation diplomats, NATO has set a goal of producing an Afghan Army of up to 220,000 troops and an enlarged police force of 180,000. This echoes earlier reports (see March 18, 2009) and (see March 24, 2009) on planned Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) numbers. These reported targets remain, however, much greater than either the Obama administration (see March 27, 2009) or NATO (see April 4, 2009) has officially disclosed. In support of a central pillar of Obama’s new Afghanistan strategy focusing on security and an expansion of Afghan security forces, the US’s NATO allies are to focus on the training of the Afghan army and police by committing several thousand personnel, according to alliance military planners. (Shanker and Erlanger 4/2/2009)
A NATO summit declaration on Afghanistan is issued by the heads of states and governments that attended a North Atlantic Council meeting in Strasbourg. The declaration recognizes that although NATO has transferred the lead on security in Kabul to Afghan forces, and that “an ever more capable Afghan National Army now participates in over 80% of ISAF [International Security Assistance Force] operations, taking the lead in half of them,” it acknowledges that serious security and governance problems remain in Afghanistan. Regarding security, the declaration states that NATO agrees to the following measures:
To establish a NATO Training Mission—Afghanistan (NTM-A) within ISAF to oversee higher level training for the Afghan National Army, and to provide more trainers and mentors in support of the Afghan National Police;
To provide operational mentoring and liaison teams (OMLT) in support of the progressive enlargement of the Afghan National Army to its current target of 134,000;
To expand the role of the Afghan National Army Trust Fund to include “sustainment costs;”
To further develop the evolving long term relationship between NATO and Afghanistan, and to build a broader political and practical relationship between NATO and Pakistan. (NATO 4/4/2009)
President Obama receives approval from NATO leaders on his new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan at a NATO summit in Strasbourg, France. Obama in turn heralds commitments from NATO allies, saying their agreement to send up to 5,000 more trainers and police to Afghanistan is “a strong down payment” toward securing the country. Obama is echoing a phrase delivered by counterinsurgency guru, retired Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, a week earlier (see March 31, 2009). At the NATO meeting, leaders pledge to send 3,000 more troops on short-term assignments to boost security for the scheduled elections in Afghanistan on August 20, and some 2,000 additional personnel to train growing Afghan security forces. They also promise to send 300 paramilitary police trainers and provide $600 million to finance the Afghan Army and civilian assistance, according to Obama. He adds that these figures should not be considered a ceiling, suggesting that more could be sought at some point in the future. “We’ll need more resources and a sustained effort to achieve our ultimate goals,” he states. (Brunnstrom 4/4/2009; Raujm 4/4/2009)
Afghan Defense Minister, General Abdul Rahim Wardak, tells the Council on Foreign Relations in an interview that Washington’s commitment to equipping and expanding the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) falls short of expectations. “It was a big surprise” when the president made his announcement, he remarks. Wardak says that President Obama’s announced plan to raise 134,000 Afghan National Army soldiers and 82,000 National Police by 2011 (see March 27, 2009) is not an overall increase in numbers or pacing, explaining that those targets had been planned for months. Wardak says he was expecting a much more rapid increase of combined forces to between 400,000 and 450,000 in number. Similar numbers were floated by US military and NATO sources in earlier reports (see March 18, 2009, April 2, 2009, and March 24, 2009). Furthermore, Gen. Wardak says he has repeatedly asked the US and NATO for help in getting more and better equipment, but to no avail. “At the moment we are still lighter than light infantry,” Wardak says. “I was much [better] equipped when we were fighting the Soviets” in the 1980s. (Wardak 4/16/2009)
A New York Times investigation finds that some munitions procured by the Pentagon for the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) are leaking to the Taliban and other insurgents for use against American troops. Arms and ordnance collected from dead insurgents are found to be identical to ammunition the United States and other allies have provided to Afghan government forces, according to an examination of ammunition markings and interviews with American officers and arms dealers conducted by the New York Times. Military officials, arms analysts, and dealers say that poor American and Afghan controls on the vast inventory of weapons and ammunition sent to Afghanistan—as well as outright corruption among Afghan forces—may have helped insurgents stay supplied. Furthermore, military officers say that American forces do not examine all captured weapons to trace how insurgents obtain them, nor do they seek to determine whether the Afghan government, directly or indirectly, is a significant Taliban supplier. An American unit from the 26th Infantry allows the New York Times to examine the weapons it had retrieved from a raid on Taliban fighters. Examination of the Taliban’s cartridges finds telling signs of diversion in which the ammunition bears markings from an American company which sells cartridges to Afghan soldiers and police officers through middlemen. Ammo from a Czech company which has donated surplus ammo to the Afghan government is also identified.
Afghan Government and Security Forces Blamed for Weapon Diversions - The New York Times cautions that given the large number of potential weapons sources, “the probability that the Taliban and the Pentagon were sharing identical supply sources [is] small.” James Bevan, a researcher specializing in ammunition for the Geneva-based research group, Small Arms Survey, says that the munitions have most likely slipped from Afghan state custody. Mr. Bevan, who has documented ammunition diversion in Kenya, Uganda, and Sudan, surmises that interpreters, soldiers, or police officers sell ammunition for profit or pass it along for other reasons, including support for the insurgency. The American military does not dispute the possibility that theft or corruption could be steering ammunition to insurgents, but it backs Mr. Bevan’s statement that illicit diversion of arms is the fault of Afghan security forces, particularly corruption within the police. Capt. James C. Howell, commander of the unit that captured the ammunition, says the findings are unsurprising but explains that this form of corruption is not the norm, citing poor discipline and oversight in the Afghan national security forces rather than deliberate diversion. Another officer, Brig. Gen. Anthony R. Ierardi, the deputy commander of the transition command, cautions that insurgent use of American-procured munitions is not widespread, noting that the captured ammunition sampling was small and that munitions might have leaked to the Taliban through less nefarious means.
United States Military Also to Blame - The United States military was recently criticized by the Government Accountability Office and the Pentagon’s Inspector General, which blamed the Combined Security Transition Command-Afghanistan for failing to account for hundreds of thousands of weapons issued to the ANSF, warning that unaccounted for weapons were at great risk of being diverted to insurgents (see February 12, 2009) and (see October 24, 2008). (CHIVERS 5/19/2009)
Thousands of US Marines launch Operation Khanjar (“Strike of the Sword”) in a campaign to assert control in the lower Helmand River valley, a stronghold of the Taliban and other insurgent groups and center of the world’s largest opium poppy producing region. Nearly 4,000 Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB) are deployed in the offensive, which is being called one of the biggest operations conducted by foreign troops in Afghanistan since the 1989 Soviet withdrawal. Approximately 650 Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police forces also participate in the mission. An adjacent operation called “Panther Claw” initiated by British-led Task Force Helmand has been under way in northern Helmand for a week. Operation Khanjar marks the beginning of a new effort by the US and its allies to assert control in Afghanistan since the arrival of commander General Stanley McChrystal, as well as the first major initiative under the Obama administration’s troop increase and counterinsurgency strategy, which it says is intended to secure and stabilize the country. US commanders say the operation is part of an effort to restore the authority of local government and security forces in Helmand and to secure the region for the presidential elections scheduled for August. “What makes Operation Khanjar different from those that have occurred before is the massive size of the force introduced, the speed at which it will insert, and the fact that where we go we will stay, and where we stay, we will hold, build, and work toward transition of all security responsibilities to Afghan forces,” says Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, commanding general of the MEB in Afghanistan. US Forces reportedly meet with very little direct resistance as insurgents blend into the local population and prepare for later attacks. (Graff 7/2/2009; Marines.mil 7/2/2009)
Villagers from towns in Helmand province accuse provincial Afghan police forces of perpetrating abuse against the local population recently and in the period before the Taliban re-gained control of the region. The reports include accusations of extortion and the rape of pre-teen boys. Villagers tell US and British troops who have arrived in the area for major operations (see Early Morning July 2, 2009) about the abuses, and say that the local police are a bigger problem than the Taliban. In fact, village elders say that they are willing to support the Taliban against coalition troops if these police forces are allowed to return. The accusations are acknowledged by some Western civilian and military officials, but their response is tepid. Adding to the problem of abuse and corruption is that the districts where the US-British military operation in Helmand is taking place are especially sensitive because they contain the main opium poppy fields in the province. Some of the police are linked to the private militia of a powerful warlord who has been implicated in drug trafficking. Former US ambassador to Afghanistan, Ronald Neumann, says that the problem is not surprising and can be traced back to the creation of the national police after the overthrow of the Taliban regime in late 2001 (see November 13, 2001). Neumann recalls that the Afghan police were “constituted from the forces that were then fighting the Taliban.” (Porter 7/29/2009)
Child Rape, Extortion - “The police would stop people driving on motorcycles, beat them, and take their money,” says Mohammad Gul, an elder in the village of Pankela, which British troops have been operating for the past three days. Gul also points to two compounds where pre-teen boys have been abducted by police to be used for the local practice of “bachabazi,” or sex with pre-pubescent boys. “If the boys were out in the fields, the police would come and rape them,” he says. “You can go to any police base and you will see these boys. They hold them until they are finished with them and then let the child go.” The Interior Ministry in Kabul says it will address the reports only after contacting police commanders in the area. (Graff 7/12/2009) A villager in the village of Aynak, Ghulam Mohammad, says that villagers are happy with the Afghan army, but not the police. “We can’t complain to the police because they take money and abuse people,” he says. (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Some Locals Prefer Taliban to Afghan Police - Mohammad Rasul, an elderly farmer, says that local people rejoiced when the Taliban arrived in the village 10 months ago and drove the police out. Even though his own son was killed by a Taliban roadside bomb five years ago, Rasul says the Taliban fighters earned their welcome in the village by treating people with respect. “We were happy [after the Taliban arrived]. The Taliban never bothered us,” he says. “If [the British] bring these people back, we can’t live here. If they come back, I am sure they will burn everything.” Another resident adds: “The people here trust the Taliban. If the police come back and behave the same way, we will support the Taliban to drive them out.” (Graff 7/12/2009) Similarly, within hours of the arrival of US troops in Aynak, villagers report the police abuse to US military officers and claim the local police force is “a bigger problem than the Taliban.” (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Police Linked to Narco Warlord's Militia - Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh. Akhunzadeh, a former Mujihideen commander and ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Akhundzada was the Karzai-appointed governor of Helmand for four years but was forced to step down after a British-trained counter narcotics team found nearly 10 tons of heroin in his basement. He remained powerful in the province, however, after Karzai appointed weak governors and/or allies in his place, allowing him to maintain control of the police, who were drawn in part from his own 500-man private army. Akhundzada’s predatory reign ended in 2008 when the Taliban regained control of the region. (Porter 7/29/2009)
Official US and UK Response Tepid - The spokesman for British-led Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells IPS that the task force is aware of the grievances voiced by village elders to British officers. He declines, however, to specify the grievances that are imparted to the British and says, “If there is any allegation, it will be dealt with by the appropriate authorities.” He specifies that this would mean “the chain of command of the Afghan national police.” The spokesman for the US 2nd Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Captain William Pelletier, is even less helpful. He tells IPS that he has no information about the allegations of misconduct by police as reported to British officers. IPS notes that the MEB’s headquarters in Helmand are right next to those of the British Task Force Helmand. Pelletier does not respond to another IPS query about the popular allegations made to US officers of police abuses in the US area of responsibility in Helmand. (Porter 7/29/2009)
Training for Afghan National Police - The Associated Press reports that after US troops arrive in the district, they send the old police force in Aynak to a US-sponsored training program called “focused district development.” The program, launched last spring, is geared toward police officers mainly from districts in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, and gives them eight weeks of intense training. Thousands of the nation’s 83,000-strong police force have already undergone training at regional training centers staffed by Western military personnel and police officers hired by US private security firm DynCorp, according to an NPR report. It is unclear whether the abusive police in Aynak had received US training under this program, but the head of the interim police force that replaced the abusive police, Colonel Ghulam, says that these officers had already had training. “They had training but not enough, and that’s why the people had problems with them,” he says. (Nelson 3/17/2008; Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009)
Inter Press Service correspondent Gareth Porter reports that provincial police forces in Helmand province of Afghanistan accused of systemic abuses against the local population are likely returning to the opium-rich area behind US and British forces engaged in major military operations there (see Early Morning July 2, 2009). One stated goal of the coalition operations is to clear out the Taliban and secure the region in order to allow the Afghan National Army and police to take over control of the population. Porter reports that the strategy poses an acute problem because the Afghan police in the province are linked to corrupt local warlord Sher Mohammed Akhunzadeh and have systematically committed abuses against the population, including the abduction and rape of pre-teen boys. As a result, the local population has repeatedly expressed a preference for the Taliban over the local police force (see July 12-14, 2009). Akhunzadeh, an ally of President Hamid Karzai, has been implicated in heroin trafficking and the maintenance of a vengeful private militia from which many of the local police force were drawn under a Karzai plan to form an “Afghanistan National Auxiliary Police.” Porter writes that it is not clear whether US and British forces in Helmand will prevent the return of these abusive police. On the one hand, US troops in the town of Aynak have reportedly sent problematic police stationed in the local headquarters out of the province for several weeks of training, replacing them with a unit they had brought with them. Yet this implies the old police will return after training. Furthermore, the spokesman for the British Task Force Helmand, Lieutenant Colonel Nick Richardson, tells Porter that both the Afghan military and police, who had been ousted by the Taliban before the US-British offensive in Helmand, “are returning to the area bit by bit.” In fact, the Associated Press reports that US troops encountered a group of these police occupying the headquarters when they entered the village of Aynak, suggesting the police force had either returned or had never left. (Straziuso and Guttenfelder 7/13/2009; Porter 7/29/2009)
The British general in line to become the UK’s next head of the Army states that British and international engagement in Afghanistan could last up to 30 or 40 years. “The Army’s role will evolve, but the whole process might take as long as 30 to 40 years,” General Sir David Richards says in an interview with the London Times. Richards, who was a former commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, emphasizes that British troop involvement there should only be needed for the medium term, but insists that there is “absolutely no chance” of NATO pulling out. “I believe that the UK will be committed to Afghanistan in some manner—development, governance, security sector reform—for the next 30 to 40 years,” he says. Liam Fox, the shadow defense secretary, responds that 30 to 40 years in Afghanistan is untenable and unaffordable. “Any idea of maintaining military involvement for that length of time is not a runner. It would require a total rethink of our foreign and security policy,” he says. General Richards adds that Western forces need to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police as part of an exit strategy that should not be understood as an abandonment of the region. In fact, the general insists that Western forces will stay on to demonstrate their commitment to the region and to prove “opponents” wrong. “We need now to focus on the expansion of the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police. Just as in Iraq, it is our route out militarily, but the Afghan people and our opponents need to know that this does not mean our abandoning the region. We made this mistake once. Our opponents are banking on us doing it again, and we must prove them wrong,” he says. (Evans 8/8/2009) Richards will later seek to clarify his comments, stating that British military involvement “along current lines” would be needed for a much shorter period than broader international engagement in development, governance, and security sector reform. (Reuters 8/17/2009)
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