Afghanistan: Campaign against Taliban 'causes misery and hunger'

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The Independent Online

Two international think-tanks published reports yesterday highlighting failures of US and UK policy in Afghanistan, and warned the security situation in the country was deteriorating.

The Senlis Council claimed that the campaign by British forces against the Taliban had inflicted lawlessness, misery and starvation on the Afghan people.

Thousands of villagers fleeing the fighting and a continuing drought, as well as farmers who have lost their livelihood with the eradication of the opium crop, were suffering dreadful conditions in refugee camps.

In a separate intervention, the influential International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) said that a vital opportunity was lost when the West failed to carry out adequate reconstruction work after the 2001 war.

Christopher Langton, the head of the IISS defence analysis department, also said that attempts to impose secular laws on a tribal Pashtun society, without the establishment of security, had not worked. At the same time, the war against the Taliban was being hampered because caveats imposed by some Nato countries on the mission have led to a lack of combat flexibility.

Dr John Chipman, chief executive of the IISS, said British tactics of moving into remote areas in Helmand had "acted as a catalyst for intensifying insurgency by drawing the Taliban into open combat. However, it is also true the insurgency has a new energy and the Taliban see ... troops from the European member states - which they regard as militarily weaker than the US - as an opportunity target.

"The counter-narcotics policy and eradication of the poppy crop have caused tensions between local people, the government and the [Nato] coalition. The removal of the farmers' livelihood programme runs counter to winning 'hearts and minds' in many areas. The Taliban capitalise on this ... by championing the cause of the farmers, at the same time protecting those (including themselves) who profit from the heroin trade."

In its report, Afghanistan Five Years Later: The Return of the Taliban, the Senlis Council said swaths of the country were falling back into the hands of the Taliban.

And the organisation has charted between 10 and 15 refugee camps, with up to 10,000 people in each, in the provinces of Helmand and Kandahar, with little or no help from relief agencies.

The council's executive director, Emmanuel Reinert, said: "Huge amounts of money have been spent on large and costly military operations, but after five years southern Afghanistan is once more a battlefield for the control of the country.

"At the same time, the Afghans are starving. The US has lost control in Afghanistan and has in many ways undercut the new democracy ... I think we can call that a failure. The US policies in Afghanistan have re-created the safe haven for terrorism that the 2001 invasion aimed to destroy."

Mr Reinert said the Senlis Council supported the Nato presence in Afghanistan but he said the mission needed to be reassessed.

The Foreign Office challenged the Senlis Council report. A spokesman said: "It is quite clear that real progress has been made."

Meanwhile, it was reported that Pakistan's government and pro-Taliban militants had signed a peace agreement. Under the deal, it was claimed the militants were to halt attacks on Pakistani forces in the semi- autonomous North Waziristan, and stop crossing into eastern Afghanistan to attack US and Afghan forces. Pakistani troops were to stop their unpopular military campaign in the region.