Kabul attack 'shows strategy failure'

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The Taliban attack on the British Council offices in Kabul has underlined the failure of the western strategy in Afghanistan, the UK's former special envoy to the country warned today.

Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles said claims Afghan forces would be able to take over responsibility for security after 2014 - as Britain and America are planning - had been exposed as a "fantasy".

Once international forces pull out, he warned the country would be plunged into a bloody civil war - in which the rival parties "fight themselves to a standstill" unless there was a political settlement with the Taliban.

"The strategy is not working. It is a fantasy to imagine that the Afghan security forces are going to be able to secure Afghanistan any time these ten years. They won't be able to secure Afghanistan unless there is a new political and regional settlement," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"If Hillary Clinton was doing her job properly as America's chief diplomat she would be bringing together the regional foreign ministers and saying it's Ramadan, it's the Muslim holy month, we should be bringing this ridiculous violence to an end.

"It is about talking to all the regional powers, it is about talking to all internal factions and bringing them all together in an Afghan-style peace process. It will be messy, it will be difficult but the military approach is clearly not working."

Sir Sherard, who has been an increasingly outspoken critic of US policy in Afghanistan since leaving the Foreign Office, said the Americans needed to take the lead in finding a settlement.

"There is a deal to be done but it needs leadership by the United States and the United Nations, its needs imagination, and above all it needs political courage and political will in Washington," he said.

Taliban suicide bombers killed at least eight people, including a New Zealand special forces soldier and three Afghan security guards, after storming the British Council's offices yesterday.

Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt said he was "deeply saddened" by the soldier's death, and thanked New Zealand for its role in bringing the "dreadful incident" to an end.

He said that David Cameron, had spoken to New Zealand Prime Minister John Key to pass on his condolences to thank New Zealand for the role its special forces played in ending the attack.

"Our thoughts are also with the Afghan security personnel who were killed or wounded during the attack," he said.

The insurgents waged an eight-hour gun battle at the compound as two terrified female teachers took refuge in a panic room.

The symbolic attack was timed to coincide with the 92nd anniversary of Afghanistan's independence from the UK.

The English language teachers, one British and the other South African, escaped unhurt but were left deeply traumatised by their experience.

They were asleep when suicide attackers used a car bomb to blast through the walls of their compound in the west of the Afghan capital early yesterday.

Along with their male British bodyguard, they fled to the panic room as the heavily-armed militants holed themselves up in the building and fought off Afghan and Nato security forces for eight hours. PA