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Dissatisfaction at US failure to make troop decision

Mark Urban | 17:38 UK time, Friday, 6 November 2009

Prime Minister Gordon Brown's speech on Friday morning was intended to make the case for a continued British combat role in Afghanistan after another grim week of casualties.

But although he did lay out some new ideas, such as setting five benchmarks for improved performance by the Afghan government, the prime minister was limited to spinning the rhetorical rotors without actually taking flight.

The thing that has grounded him and other Nato leaders is the continued absence of a clear line from Washington.

How could Mr Brown have been more adamant about the current counter-insurgency strategy or the need for more troops to execute it, if he knows that at any time the White House might change its mind?

President Barack Obama received the McChrystal report calling for a troop surge on 30 August, and with each week that passes without a decision the political difficulties of his allies across Nato multiply.

When Britain announced in mid-October that it would, if certain conditions were met, send another 500 troops to Afghanistan, Whitehall felt it was on a promise from the Obama team.

As Newsnight reported at the time, one top insider suggested not just that Britain had been promised there would be a substantial US reinforcement, but that it would be General Stanley McChrystal's option of around 45,000 troops, and that its announcement was imminent.

So what does he say now? When asked recently, my contact characterised the continued lack of a clear statement of the way ahead from Mr Obama as, "disgraceful".

These views, given non-attributably, are simpler a stronger version of what one can see in the public domain.

Back in October Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, Britain's senior serviceman, insisted that the Allies were still all committed to the counter-insurgency strategy and that he was, "confident" he knew which way the US would go on the troop increase question.

In the absence of an announcement, confidence in ministries from Ottawa to Berlin is faltering.

"What is the goal? What is the road? and in the name of what?" asked French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner earlier this week, adding menacingly, "Where are the Americans? It begins to be a problem".

Field Marshal Lord Inge, speaking in a defence debate in the House of Lords earlier on Friday said the US' delay sent, "a very bad message".

Talking to Nick Horne earlier this week, home after several years working as an official for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) in Kabul, he reckoned the Obama administration had carried out seven different reviews of Afghan policy.

From their electoral victory one year ago to the present, Afghan policy has been in a state of flux.

The criticism is not simply code for "Why doesn't Obama just get on with the troop increase"?

There are plenty in European governments who would be delighted if the president announced that the US intends to withdraw from Afghanistan as quickly as possible.

What people want is a decision.

Now the White House is suggesting that there could be an announcement in a fortnight's time. So the present limbo is set to continue.

It is all the stranger because Mr Obama has not yet endorsed the strategy set out in the McChrystal report, something Nato defence ministers did at a meeting two weeks ago.

The US' own defence secretary, Robert Gates, has called publicly for the matter to be resolved swiftly.

Some Obama supporters have stressed the importance of measuring such vital life and death decisions carefully.

Gen McChrystal himself has been loyal enough to his commander in chief to echo them, remarking that it is better it be done properly than rapidly.

The shambolic outcome of the Afghan presidential elections has complicated matters politically, but it hardly de-railed some great policy juggernaut that had been careering along smoothly until then.

Looking though at the succession of reviews and the tangled logic in the one definitive presidential statement on "Af-Pak strategy" given back at the end of March, it is evident that the administration has had great difficulty deciding what it thinks about the Afghan conflict.

Instead we have witnessed what people in Whitehall describe with increasing frankness as a failure of leadership.


  • Comment number 1.


    Blair Watchers know that he had a fear of the pointing finger that says: "You stood by and did nothing". (Probably a scar from his small days.) Because of PARTY TRIBALISM Brown was stuck with Blair's 'cowardly action' and now he has not the guts to face 'PARTY BETRAYAL' in pursuit of a higher good. Thus is a whole nation hoist on the PETARD of PARTY POLITICS.


  • Comment number 2.

    not surprising they 'had great difficulty deciding what it thinks about the Afghan conflict. '

    because its a false narrative. a bogus war.

    for 30 years the uk felt no need to 'invade' ireland even when bombs were going off in canary wharf. now gordon thinks military occupation is exactly the plan that should be used. where is the evidence it worked anywhere in the world? The english crown tried to ethnically cleansing Wales for 700 years and the language still survived despite the death penalty for anyone who spoke it..

    i remember sitting in certain pubs in cricklewood when men in leather jackets would come in, put 'please release me' on the jukebox and the hat was passed round. No doubt the same sort of 'fundraising' is going on in the uk although its not in the pubs.

    If this is not a true war what is it? A distraction? Vanity? Someone else's agenda? A money spinner?

    Nulabour must be the worst govt the uk has ever had. Tony and Gordon have broken the UKs back with debt, left it with 2 unwinnable wars and enslaving it to a carbon trading oligarchy.

    One might argue the bankers have succeeded where AQ could only dream. and it's still perfectly legal to recklessly bankrupt the uk .

    whatever is going on its not the british public that is being put first.

  • Comment number 3.


    Any man who can unashamedly buy, and orate, his way to high office is, by virtue of his employment of those tools, manifestly THE WRONG MAN FOR THE JOB.

    Oratory does not have any impact on those of another culture and tongue, and money has lost its value, not unlike the Obama rhetoric, used on the way up.

    Now we see Obama the lawyer, making the best of the brief he has been handed. He can't win, but he will go for a plea-bargain, and get himself off - hopefully - not on the Wrong Side of History. He has discovered that being great is not about looking great and sounding great - well, not when the chips are down.

    One thing is sure: while earth's 6 billion remain childlike, their leaders (failed state or super-state) will be smoke and mirror merchants. Wise leadership is so - like - unimpressive . . .

  • Comment number 4.


    It would appear the killer did not pass the 'Cricket Test'.

  • Comment number 5.

    One of the many echoes of the Vietnam Conflict present in the Afghan war
    is the endless "factfinding " trips, Obama's dithering over the decision to either reinforce or scale-back to a anti -terrorist mission (In my opinion, the correct one), reminds me of Lyndon Johnson's conduct of his war, endless debates followed often by the wrong course!.
    Indeed Brown and Obama seem to follow the same stratagem, unable to make quick decision's until forced to, then undertaking rushed and ill thought out moves!

  • Comment number 6.


    Unless, of course, you are called Neocons, and you want a 'New Pearl Harbour' so that you can attack anyone anywhere, on the basis of 'intelligence' - real or invented - such as '45 minutes'.

    I cannot help feeling SOMEONE must have briefed Obama, by now, that the triple tower incident was a long way from the JUMPED-TO CONCLUSION of Dubya and chums (a convenient untruth) - with Tony tagging along for a bit of glory. Poor Barack: somewhere in the next half a decade, he has to 'discover' (surprise!) that it was a false flag attack. I wonder if he will demand the medal back from our Tony?

    It puts Brown's reference to 'corrupt governance', swiped at Karzai, into a different perspective does it not? I keep visualising Karzai and his aides, howling with laughter at poor wee Jimmie Brown's posturing.

  • Comment number 7.

    interestingly last nights newsnight contrived to promote (undoubtedly because that is what government briefings required) the idea of af-pak and the blurring and extension of the afghan war into pakistan.

    it is increasingly clear that the extremist neo conservative ideologues in our government and that of the usa are seeking to win hearts and minds in the west, for media to promote the idea that paksitan must be brought under control , the pretext for next years interventions certainly will be a perceived threat to paksitans nuclear facilities, probably through one of the black ops that the usa-uk-raw special forces are already utilising to destabilise pakistan - at least according to the regions better informed analysts.

    interestingly pakistans internal problems have increased with the increased presence of Xe (Blackwater) mercenaries employed by the usa in islamabad.

    thus far the claim of three quarters of terrorism is linked to pakistan has not been proven or evidenced. in fact 7/7 was created, trained and plotted in leeds. just as 9/11 was plotted in germany, trained in the usa and their weapons were american civil aircraft.

    we are there (afghansitan) for oil, gas, (and there is $15 trillion worth in turkmenistan-caspian and we are there for the long term as the usa is spending some many billions on a military infrastructure that at least extends to 2014.

    the only wonder is that journos at the bbc choose not to go beyond of the governments remit.

  • Comment number 8.

    "But when Hitler's forces marched through Europe, everyone understood why Britain needed to fight the Nazi enemy.

    Today the threat is hard to see and more complex to understand. It is natural that people should question why we are asking our troops to put themselves in harm's way.

    This war is every bit a war of necessity. Afghanistan was a haven for terrorists in the Nineties. The badlands of the Afghan-Pakistan border are the breeding ground for terrorist plots against Britain. "

    "Pakistan's population is six times greater than that of Afghanistan. It has nuclear weapons. Islamist victory in Afghanistan would spur Pakistani Taliban ambitions for overthrowing what they see as an 'apostate regime' in Islamabad."

    looks as if the govt is making its pakistan case.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hello again
    I think the only sensible answer to the dilemma is to bring all the foreign troops home and let the Afghans sort out their own problems. Anyway the USA and its cronies have promoted the Taliban from being a cruel oppressive regime to heroic freedom fighters in nine years.
    Resistance against an agressor as powerful as the USA demands an enormous logistical organisation and also the support of most of the people. To put it crudely I think the occupation is pissing against the wind.

  • Comment number 10.

    Hello again
    A number of commentators talk about terrorists and terrorism as though these concepts are well defined. They are not. The USA steadfastly resists any attempt at an internationally accepted definition. As far as the USA is concerned the only acceptable definition of terrorism is that that resists USA hegemony. Bombing cities, towns, villages and weddings is quite acceptable.

  • Comment number 11.

    Instead of waiting for a lead from the US, Gordon Brown should go back to first principles.

    The ability to win and war, and the ability to win a peace are two separate issues.

    Neither the US nor UK have the ability or track record to "win a peace".

    The Afgan situation is little more than civil war with foreign troops being the ham in the bloddy sandwich.

    We have no place there ! Bring our troops home.

    If we are supposedly there to fight terrorists, again, bring the troops home. They can be used to re-inforce our customs and immigration services thereby protecting our own door step.

  • Comment number 12.

    'Looking though at the succession of reviews and the tangled logic in the one definitive presidential statement on "Af-Pak strategy" given back at the end of March, it is evident that the administration has had great difficulty deciding what it thinks about the Afghan conflict.

    Instead we have witnessed what people in Whitehall describe with increasing frankness as a failure of leadership. '

    Perhaps the people in Whitehall should consider whether just letting Afghanistan fester with too little resource is leadership?

    The surge may have an impact but there is no reason to think it will win the war.

    What is "winning" as to me it is a variable sum that does indeed couple up with what happens in Pakistan.

    If Pakistan resolves the problems on its side (encouraged largely by previous CIA incarnations in the Soviet era) then anything where a stable Afghanistan is left is victory.

    If Pakistan does not resolve its problems or looks to be going to fail then we should bail out of Afghanistan asap.

    The weak leadership has been on Pakistani resolve and coherence with suspected split ISI loyalties and that must make decision making very difficult for Obama.

    Looking up and getting a genuine assessment is the road to victory provided they don't start continuously looping on the assessment.


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