16 November 2009 - COMMANDER IN CHIEF OF UK LAND FORCES CALLS FOR LONG-TERM RESOLVE IN AFGHANISTAN
Progress in Afghanistan has been slow, concedes General Sir Peter Wall, British Commander in Chief of land forces, but the NATO strategy is the right one. “It’s essential that NATO consolidates its success in Afghanistan thus far, and displays its determination to advance the campaign” he said at the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s 55th annual session in Edinburgh. In a presentation given to the Assembly’s Defence and Security Committee, the general supported a clear-hold-build strategy, where NATO forces adopt a comprehensive approach including both security and development elements.
Sir Peter recognised that “progress is slow, and people are sceptical because progress is uncertain”. However, he stressed that “this is the nature of such a complex military and governance situation as we face in
He reminded his audience of the importance of denying al-Qaeda a sanctuary in that country, and of establishing conditions where good governance can take root. “The consequences of a failure would be very difficult to accept”, and could include the destabilisation of the whole region, he said.
The lack of visible progress and the growth in IED attacks against allied troops are taking their toll on public support for the mission in some allied countries, but “the army depends on this resolve holding” said the General. “How would you try to convince the public if you were a politician?”, the General was asked by member of the Canadian parliament Leon Benoit. The key is to encourage the media to report on the non-military aspects of progress, replied the General. “We need to put our very best people in strategic communications”. “The nature of modern media is to focus on the negative” he added, and “getting a complex, consistent and correct message is very difficult” on the Afghan operation.
He also endorsed an approach that has been gaining ground with many allies: engaging select elements of the Taliban in political dialogue. “We want to see the reconcilable Taliban elements integrated, and we want to see the irreconcilable dealt with” said Sir Peter, noting that no counter-insurgency has ever been successful without such an engagement, and that similar initiatives were in fact already taking place at tribal level.
Sven Mikser, Estonian vice-president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, voiced his concern over the long-term costs of an enlarged Afghan army and police, which are likely far to exceed the country’s budgetary means. The General admitted that a long-term dependence on external support was inevitable for one or perhaps two decades. But this investment “has to be weighed against the costs of a reversal [in the security situation] in the region” he said. The French parliamentarian Dider Boulaud suggested that higher pay for the Afghan forces, whose members currently earn less than Taliban recruits, could help address retention and loyalty problems. The General added that Afghan forces were also motivated by supporting their country’s development, and by joining “the winning side”.
The General also recognised the vital role of the border region where both Afghan and Pakistani Taliban groups are based. He stressed that “we do need a consolidated effort on either side of the Durand line [the Afghan-Pakistan border] to suppress both the insurgencies”.
The NATO Parliamentary Assembly, which brings together some 350 delegates from 28 NATO member states and other partner countries, is currently holding its Annual Session in