Mortal tide calls entire US strategy into question

The patrol from No 1 Company, the Coldstream Guards, was pinned down in a field at Babaji in Helmand, an area supposedly "liberated" from the Taliban during Operation Panther's Claw. As we took shelter in a ditch an American B1 bomber, called in for air support, came in low, huge and menacing. It was there for a "show of force" to scare the Taliban, but not to bomb them, an example of "courageous restraint" stipulated by General Stanley McChrystal. The Taliban did not get scared and continued firing. " How about some courageous bombing instead?" shouted an exasperated young soldier.

A year earlier, a unit of British troops in a similar situation south of Garmsir called down attacks from an RAF Harrier. Minutes later a B1 dropped two 500lb bombs with deafening noise. It seemed implausible anyone could survive, but the Taliban were heard on the radio reporting "they have dropped a big one on us".

The military advantage through air strikes on that occasion in Garmsir was, thus, negligible. Any women and children killed or maimed would have added to the anger felt over foreign troops. Gen McChrystal is determined not to alienate "hearts and minds", a key plank in his strategy since being sent by Barack Obama to turn the tide of a war which was looking increasingly un-winnable to the Western public and politicians.

The logic of Gen McChrystal's approach appeared unarguable. Commanders say he rejuvenated a campaign which had lost its way.

Now, however, questions are being asked as to whether the McChrystal "surge" of troops to seize and hold ground from the insurgents, while doing the utmost to avoid civilian casualties, would actually work.

Yesterday brought the news that Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, the UK representative to Afghanistan, has gone on "extended leave" after expressing his opposition to the military option. The "surge" is not working, he is said to believe – the only option is to talk to the Taliban.

It is true that the war is no longer confined to the south. The capital, Kabul, is regularly attacked, the number of roadside bombs have almost doubled in a year. But one of the main reasons for this rise in violence has been the presence of Western and Afghan troops in areas they have not been to before. The Taliban, backed by their supporters in the Pakistani secret police, the ISI, are fighting to hold their turf.

Despite the losses, one can see signs of civic society returning in some of the most violent parts of Helmand. However, establishing security takes time and that is what the commanders do not have. US officials repeatedly say that President Obama's deadline of July next year to begin the pullout is "conditions based", but with the President facing re-election, the faction led by Vice-President Joe Biden, strongly opposed to the "surge", is gaining ground. The new British Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, and David Cameron have stated that the UK will "last the course" but there is little doubt both men would like the withdrawal to start as soon as possible.

Meanwhile, the Afghan president Hamid Karzai is said to be so disillusioned with the US and Britain that he is willing to embrace the most extreme factions of the Taliban. The two government officials most trusted by the West, interior minister Hanif Atmar and Amrullah Saleh, the director of the intelligence service, have resigned in protest.

Gen McChrystal and the military commanders still believe their strategy will work in the field. But they now talk privately of the possibility of the politicians jeopardising all that is being achieved.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Reprographics Operator

£12500 - £13000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The largest independent Reprogr...

Recruitment Genius: Web Design Apprentice

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a well established websit...

Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher

£120 - £145 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: French & German Teacher X2 Materni...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer / Systems Administrator

£25000 - £32500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Based in SW London, this compan...

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee