Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 20 September 2014

We can't defeat Taliban: Army chief

Lt Col Nick Kitson talking to local Afghan people at the Sangin DC Bazaar

The fight against the Taliban will not be won by military means alone, one of the most senior British commanders in Afghanistan has said.

The Afghan people must be persuaded to reject the insurgency and take responsibility for their own security, said Lieutenant Colonel Nick Kitson, Commanding Officer 3rd Battalion The Rifles Battlegroup.

Greater troop numbers would help the fight but the Afghan security forces should be pushed to the fore to provide "Afghan solutions to Afghan problems".

Lt Col Kitson, who is responsible for the security operation in the areas around Sangin and Kajaki, said now was the time for the Afghan government to improve the quality of its leaders and commanders.

Speaking at FOB (Forward Operating Base) Jackson, in Sangin, he estimated that there were only about 200 insurgents - "maybe less" - in the area of Sangin, where British troops were involved in some of the fiercest fighting. But he said "safe havens" in the surrounding areas allowed insurgents to commute in and out.

He said: "In terms of whether we can defeat them, no. We can prevail in our mission. Anyone who studies counter insurgency will know that you are not going to win by military means alone and therefore our focus is on the population, the security of the population, and generating the pre-eminence of the Afghan government."

He said: "In the next three months what we need to do is to continue to push the Afghan army and police to the fore. That does need a bit of support from higher up the Afghan chain, to improve their numbers and particularly to improve the quality of their leaders and commanders."

Lt Col Kitson said security in Sangin had improved to the point where it was "time for Afghan solutions for Afghan problems".

The commander said: "We know that the insurgency relies to varying degrees on individuals, foot soldiers, who are not necessarily committed to the cause. They may just be disaffected youth, unemployed, looking for some money. I think most of what I see here is about power and wealth. I don't believe it's an ideological movement quite as much as people might imagine."

He said an end to the conflict would inevitably involve dialogue, adding: "I think the insurgents or the Taliban will be brought over to the government side on the basis of what quality of life they are likely to receive and the general support or otherwise of the population."

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