West should have talked to Taliban - British general

General Nick Carter General Nick Carter said the Taliban should have been involved in talks after they were ousted

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The West should have tried talking to the Taliban a decade ago, the UK's top general in Afghanistan has said.

Gen Nick Carter told the Guardian it would have been easier to find a political solution when they were on the run in 2002.

Prime Minister David Cameron acknowledged that the original settlement for Afghanistan "could have been better arranged".

His comments come days after planned negotiations with the Taliban stalled.

Gen Carter also warned Afghan forces would need military and financial support after troops leave in 2014.

The Kabul government would have only shaky control over some areas, he said.

Negotiation attempts

A major conference on the future of Afghanistan held in Bonn, Germany, over a decade ago did not include the defeated Taliban former government of Afghanistan.

Gen Carter, deputy commander of the Nato-led coalition, acknowledged it was easy to be wise with the benefit of hindsight but added: "Back in 2002, the Taliban were on the run.

"I think that at that stage, if we had been very prescient, we might have spotted that a final political solution to what started in 2001, from our perspective, would have involved getting all Afghans to sit at the table and talk about their future.

"The problems that we have been encountering over the period since then are essentially political problems, and political problems are only ever solved by people talking to each other."

David Cameron eating with troops in Camp Bastion The prime minister ate with UK troops at Camp Bastion

Speaking as he visited UK troops in Camp Bastion on Armed Forces Day, The prime minister said he was encouraged that the Taliban no longer wanted Afghanistan to be "a haven for terror".

He said: "You can argue that the settlement we put in place in 2001 could have been better arranged.

He added: "You have to remember why we came here and that was because the Taliban regime allowed Al Qaeda to have a base in Afghanistan, so that's why that regime was removed, why an Afghan democracy has been created and why we have now built up an Afghan National Army and police force which are capable of securing this country.

"But do we want people to give up weapons to give up an armed struggle and join a political process so that everyone in Afghanistan can be part of that political future, yes."

Doha talks row

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond said it would have been "very difficult" to negotiate with the Taliban a decade ago.

He said: "I suspect ten years ago it would have been very difficult.

"We've reset the parameters of the debate by building the Afghan security forces, by supporting the Afghan government to reach out across the country, delivering services to the people in a way that has given it legitimacy, and I think the time is right now for that negotiation to take place."

Last week, US Secretary of State John Kerry expressed caution over whether peace talks on Afghanistan with the Taliban could take place.

A row over the status of a Taliban office in Qatar's capital Doha has overshadowed efforts to start peace negotiations there.

BBC defence correspondent Caroline Wyatt said the row had simply underlined the diplomatic and practical difficulties that remained for anyone wishing to talk to the Taliban.

Gen Carter said he was confident that Nato's handover of security to Afghan forces would eventually bring the Taliban to the negotiating table.

Gradual withdrawal

He said that overall the police and army had been shaped into sustainable institutions strong enough to protect a critical presidential election next year and guarantee stability for the majority of the country after Western forces withdrew.

However, he added that the Afghan army and police would still need help in the years to come because they had been built up very quickly.

However, he expressed optimism about Afghanistan's future as long as the US and its allies came through on promises of financial and military support.

Some 8,000 British troops are still serving in Afghanistan, around half of them at Camp Bastion in Helmand province, ­many of them still mentoring or advising Afghan forces.

Until last year, the UK had 137 bases in Helmand but the gradual withdrawal ahead of the end of combat operations by 2015 means the mission is gradually changing with just 13 bases still operating.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 64.

    The US is a country that is perpetually at war, and by definition will continue to be in the future. The UK gambols along behind, following this destructive path, against the wishes of the majority.

    And so the terrorists are created, through our own actions. Both governments then use this as the excuse to take away our freedoms.

    War is Peace. Black is White. And he was right, you know.

  • rate this

    Comment number 63.

    We have been led into two unnecessary wars, one of which we had no UN mandate for, and for what exactly? We have lost thousands of troops, killed thousands more civilians, angered practically the entire Muslim world and handed Al Qaeda a perfect recruiting tool.

    We should be prosecuting the people responsible for taking us there in the first place, especially given their ties to defense firms.

  • rate this

    Comment number 62.

    NO, we should never have invaded Afghanistan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 61.

    This mess is being repeated by typical vain politicians like Hague and his Mouthpiece the "BBC". Syria and the Middle east simply has nothing to do with us, if Muslims want to make a rod for their own back by refusing to live side by side in tolerance then our men and women should not be sacrificed in trying to bring peace yet alone "democracy" to any Muslim land. Lets concentrate on our society.

  • rate this

    Comment number 60.

    Dominate US foreign policy results in hectic decisions with no long term solutions - West should have to learn from history

    Talk to Taliban (establshed by CIA and ISI) 10 years ago would have save many lives from both sides

  • rate this

    Comment number 59.

    30. misallot

    Politicians? Yes. BBC? Yes. You would be hard put to blame the military for getting us into an armed conflict, they just go where the politicians tell them to go.

    As for talking to the Taliban, the UK military has touted this for years only to be rebuffed by bullish gung-ho Americans telling us how 'wussey' that would be.

  • rate this

    Comment number 58.

    Gen. Carter is wrong. Although the Taliban were in disarray at the time it was not at all feasible that talks would occur. There was a resurgent Islamist movement very active; Al Qaeda were predominant in 2002 and most importantly the US was hurt and angry. These were not the conditions in which negotiations could succeed. What happened since was a containment action that kept war in the region.

  • rate this

    Comment number 57.

    Weapons technology which is a century more advanced than the Taleban but they have still been unable to beat them.

  • rate this

    Comment number 56.

    It's hardly surprising that the Bush administration, with it's ties to defense firms, had no exit strategy and were unwilling to engage in talks; they wanted the war to continue as long as possible.

    Talks might have worked a decade ago after the regime fell and it seemed like we might be there for a decade. Now we are leaving and the Taliban just have to play the waiting game.

  • rate this

    Comment number 55.

    So now, thousands of deaths later we want to talk with the Taliban? Surely after the protests against the Iraq war we should have learnt to think before we act. But then again, we do what the US wants, don't we. We need far greater sovereignty over our destiny. It's a shame that even 10 years on from the start of the Afghan war Syria is going to be next. Politicians aren't learning lessons.

  • rate this

    Comment number 54.

    The last decade of continual war has carelessly erased the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Political dialogue solves disputes, not wars or heroes. In sending thousands of young servicemen and women to their deaths, useless, self-serving politicians Western politicians should be arraigned. they are incompetent fools, not statesmen. None of them should be re-elected.

  • Comment number 53.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 52.

    "Gen Nick Carter said it would have been much easier to find a political solution when they were on the run."

    Instead of which they managed to regroup and put up an effective display of resistance to the forces which should have been able to defeat them.

    If this does not constitute an admission of failure then I don't know what does.

  • rate this

    Comment number 51.

    you don't talk with extremist
    you eliminate them,
    you cannot trust the Taliban they are ruthless fundamentalist and will betray you as soon as they can.

  • rate this

    Comment number 50.

    It's said that you can judge folk by the company they keep. Hilary Clinton and Philip Hammond have both been courting Islam Kharimov, a despicable lump of flotsam even by despot standards.
    I know there are pragmatic reasons for so doing, but at what point do you bid farewell to any semblance of morality?

    44. peter
    The BBC are partly to blame.
    Murdoch, on the other hand.....

  • rate this

    Comment number 49.


    British people and American people feel good when they GET TOUGH.

    So no talking.

    Maybe after we kill a few hundred thousand people, then we feel we have been tough ... and then maybe we'll talk.

    But - how are we gonna feel good without GETTING TOUGH !!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 48.

    The question should be why we were there in the first place when all we needed to know was available freely in the history books.
    This whole thing has descended into a war of attrition & the money has run out to keep it up.
    The only people to have benefited are the arms manufacturers.

  • rate this

    Comment number 47.

    Sort of comment that could have be scripted for Blackadder, unfortunately in real life there will always be a General Sir Anthony Cecil Hogmanay Melchett.

  • rate this

    Comment number 46.

    Watch the film 'Charlie Wilson's War', particularly the last five minutes.
    Scary because it is so accurate and shows how the whole mess was created.

  • rate this

    Comment number 45.

    The Taliban should have talked to the West, instead of providing a refuge and training ground for racist terrorists, whilst shooting schoolgirls for having the audacity to want an education.


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