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An Afghan Exit Strategy

Mark Urban | 18:57 UK time, Thursday, 19 November 2009

President Hamid Karzai's statement in his inauguration speech, that he expects Afghan security forces to be running operations across the country within five years, is the latest sign that an exit strategy is being formulated.

In itself Mr Karzai's statement might seem like little more than a pious hope - given the fact that his forces lose so many to desertion (around one quarter each year) that they are struggling hard enough just to maintain their current strength.

But his words follow those of Gordon Brown on Tuesday in his Mansion House address, when he hinted that an international conference might be held in London which might begin to set a timetable for the transition to Afghan control.

In between the Brown and Karzai statements came one from Barack Obama, saying that he did not intend to make the US military presence an open ended commitment that would need to be solved by his successor.

Combine the recent words from these three players and what starts looking likely is a conference at which the US troop reinforcement could be presented as part of a wider package that includes charting a pathway to Afghan security control, sets out reforms to the government of Afghanistan, launches an anti-corruption drive, possibly the formation of a new more broadly based government, and coordinates all of this with pledges of development assistance.

This may well mean that early next year there could be a big international moment - a conference of Afghans, donors and troop contributors that would set the future course in a way that has not been done since the 2001 Bonn Conference.

Mr Brown said on Tuesday that he was offering London as the venue. Whether this will appeal to the other participants is a moot point, since it smacks of Downing Street trying to set the international agenda in the run up to an election.

So will the US troop announcement have to wait until this conference, possibly in January? The ominous possibility that President Obama might leave it five months between receiving the McChrystal Report and endorsing the reinforcements needed to make it work seemed a little more real yesterday when he said that he would be announcing his decision in the next 'several weeks'.

Equally, it may be that Mr Obama (as many are predicting) makes an announcement after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend near the end of this month, or indeed before it upon his return from his Far East tour.

However, if the precedents of this long and tortuous policy re-think are followed he may well want to know more about how the international conference is taking shape, even if he does not wait for the event itself, before announcing his reinforcements.


  • Comment number 1.

    GAMES PEOPLE PLAY (Erich Berne)

    Afghanistan started off as a hidden agenda and is now a 'game'. All players have gains to make (even if only saving face) so no word of truth will be uttered. Also, while we can busy ourselves 'fixing' them, 'to save us', the more-desperate need to fix US, goes unaddressed. Smoke and Mirrors Brown gains another triumph.


  • Comment number 2.

    in the uk heroin addicts are often put in jail. in afghanistan they are put in the police or army and given a gun. the job is so poorly paid and dangerous that only addicts will do it.

    which is why after 7 years of training they are ineffective.

    given the failure of the british officer corps in iraq one might wonder what training is going on anyway? pistol whipping? stress positions?

    the afghan policy is a denial that the taliban have been an arm of pakistan's foreign policy.

    the model of 'nation building' seems to be one based on the iran shah model? after all they couldn't use the british model because its only partly democratic?

    its interesting watching people building houses of cards while others put their lives on the line 5, 6 ,7 times a day for months on end to allow them to do that? not that there is any rush.

    i see the focus is moving to somalia? with 'training' going on there?

  • Comment number 3.

    The end-game for this whole affair should be clear by now - we declare success and withdraw as soon as practical. This must now be clear to the dullest and most slavish believer in US & UK public relations spin. The comparisons with Vietnam become more apposite by the day:

    Afghanization = Vietnamization (same result inevitable)

    War On Terror Domino Theory = South-East Asia Domino Theory

    The extention of the bombing campaign into Cambodia is mirrored by the extention of the Afghan bombing campaign into Pakistan, and probably will have similar consequences for Pakistan as for Cambodia. Does anyone REALLY believe 'the west' has a realistic strategy in Afghanistan?

    Remember the famous scenes of panic as US helicopters were pushed into the ocean from carriers as soon as they arrived from Saigon. What will be the Afghan equivalent? Probably the much talked-about new helicopters breaking-down and being abandoned in the desert to rust with the Soviet ironmongery already there - a 'glorious' end to the British Empire's 4th Afghan War!

  • Comment number 4.


    Let Brown write one of his letters of apology, to the Afghan people (several generations thereof) and air-drop it all over the 'Bad Lands'(a short-lived Miliband D coinage). Those that didn't die laughing, would certainly be too weak to fight; and they would pity us so much for having this bizarre leader, they would send us extra drugs for therapeutic purposes. While they are incapacitated, we can sneak away. No doubt the Taliban will slaughter a lot of schoolgirls, but I feel Sure Norman Lamont could be persuaded to do his 'price worth paying' pronouncement, with reference to saving our military lives.

  • Comment number 5.

    Nos 4

    Rather worried about the school girls barrie but other than that excellent plan.

  • Comment number 6.

    when are we to rid ourselves of this disgracefull Prime minister who watches impotently as more coffins land at Brize Norton and he comes out with the same old tired mantra, he really does not know how universally despised he is in some quarters of the country


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