Friday, 11 June 2010

Time to withdraw from Afghanistan

Best Blogger Tips
Afghan troop map, May 2010
A troubled land
Afghanistan is a land of contrasts. I would like to say it is a ‘nation’ of contrasts but the fragmented tribes, religions, cultures and a history fraught with bloodshed, means it has along way to go before stability and nationhood will sit easily on its troubled shoulders.
Back in 2001, I travelled to Pakistan and drove from Quetta up to the Afghan border town of Chaman. The refugees were massing on the other side waiting and hoping to be let into Pakistan to escape the war that was raging on the other side of the mountains. I wandered around a refugee camp and was confronted by angry Pashtun elders who simply saw me as a 'Westerner'. My short speech in English condemned the actions of George Bush and Tony Blair. Unfortunately, the translator was a little behind translating my denunciations and all the crowd understood was a Western politician mentioning two reviled names who they held responsible for the deaths of their families and loved ones back over the border. I remember standing there as the crowd surged forward, screaming abuse wanting to lynch me and the only police officer with me grappling to try and get his revolver out of its holster. I remember feeling the hot dry breeze on my face and waiting for the first blow. The BBC were calmly filming, no doubt hoping that they could turn a fairly boring story of an independently spirited MP travelling to the Afghan border to highlight the plight of the refugees, into a real scoop of MP being buried alive in the Afghan desert.
Luckily for me the tribal elders held back the angry young men swinging punches, long enough for the sweating translator to get the message across that I was against the war. It demonstrated to me though the wretchedness of those that had suffered and how miscommunication can be the precursor to violence. Later on I was given nothing but hospitality and respect as I walked without any protection amongst the tents guided by Red Crescent officials and a tribal elder. Seeing a little girl the same age as my eldest son back home with long black hair and dark brown eyes racing around the tents, at first it brought a smile to my face. She happily chatted away about something that I did not understand and then I noticed that she had no shoes on and her little feet were cut to ribbons on the sharp stones scattered across the sand. She was still smiling in spite of the blood dripping onto the rocks.

The war against the Taliban
Pakistan Taliban member
It is important to make clear that the Taliban regime pre-2001 committed atrocities, abuses of human rights (especially against women) and imposed its radical version of Islam on the country. Their version of Islam is world away from the mainstream religion of Islam that preaches and practices peace, tolerance and togetherness.

The number of Taliban and associated forces that have died since 2001 are estimated for each year at around:-

Number of Taliban and associated forces killed

In the last two years the military have stopped releasing any figures but given the detail of reported deaths I think it is reasonable to state that some 35,000 Taliban men have been killed in the fighting. If such casualties had been inflicted on most armies in the modern age they would be seriously defeated.

Over 1,700 Coalition military forces have been killed (and another 10,500 injured). These include 294 British military personnel who have bravely given their lives in defence of their own country but unfortunately in an ill thought out campaign.

Wootton Bassett: town gathers for a solemn ritual that is all too familiar
On 26th June on Armed Forces Day we remember those men and women throughout the ages who have defended these isles and undertake the most difficult and dangerous missions asked of them by our political leaders.
Around 102,500 troops are now engaged with hundreds of thousands of militant fighters.The Afghan security forces have lost over 5,500 dead and over 300 private security contractors have been killed. As such, around 7,500 Coalition and Afghan security forces have been killed.
At least 10,000 civilians are estimated to have died as a direct result of the war and at least another 3,200 have died as an indirect result of the war. Total estimates for the number of civilian men, women and children that have died due to the war vary between that 13,200 figure and 33,000. The US military don’t believe in producing official figures for the innocent dead. Civilians have been killed by both the Taliban and Coalition forces.
Over the last nine years some 50,000 people and possibly up to around 70,000 are dead from the fighting in Afghanistan.
Categories killed
Coalition forces
Taliban and associated forces

Strife and conflict

Some 300,000 people have been displaced from their homes according to Amnesty International. There are also reports of some 700 Afghans are being held without charge or trial at the US Bagram base. Now, let’s not pretend that these are all innocent bystanders. Some could be vicious sadistic killers but it is a great propaganda weapons for the Taliban to make martyrs of these people. They should be placed on trial or released (or failing that deported). However, the Amnesty International 2010 report also highlights positive news that some 360,000 refugees have returned from Pakistan and Iran.

Unless the military overstep agreed rules of war and the Geneva Conventions and there have been a few such alleged incidents, then the responsibility for such military actions lies with the politicians. First Tony Blair, then Gordon Brown and now David Cameron bear that responsibility of a flawed and failing policy of long term war exposing our men and women in the armed forces to a highly dangerous mission in a situation that is politically highly unlikely to succeed in delivering a safe, stable country that can develop its public infrastructure and encourage wealth creation through private business.

President Karzai

President Karzai’s tainted election last year and the recent internal political turmoil provides little reassurance that the current Afghan administration can seriously pull the country together and force the Taliban to negotiate a peaceful end to the war. The US and UK have a right to expect more from Karzai who has repeatedly failed to tackle corruption and is whispered to be undertaking communications with the Taliban that seem to over step the mark when it comes to trying to identify a road map to peace. The last few weeks have seen a last attempt to try and create a united front between Karzai and President Obama that will patch up the differences. The truth is that everyone knows Karzai is not the man to save Afghanistan.

Phased withdrawal of the Coalition forces
Royal Marine Commandos
The war in Afghanistan has now been raging for nearly nine years and the spin doctors continue to tell us back in Britain that in spite of the Taliban attacks, the war is being won and we just need to step up the attacks on the Taliban, strengthen the reconstruction work and the training of the Afghan Army and Police and soon we will be pulling back with the 'job done'. Once the NATO ground troops pull out or are confined to base, as night surely follows day, the Taliban will soon be swarming around the Afghan Army and although there will be air support for a long time to come, areas of the country will rapidly be under effective control of the Taliban. In such a large rural land where Taliban sympathisers live and work the land, it is deeply frustrating that it is just a question of time before swathes of the country will be back in their hands.
It is time now to seek a temporary truce with those Taliban and militant forces in order to allow an orderly exit of Coalition ground forces to withdraw from the south and east and in effect split the country with the Uzbeks and Tajiks becoming independent from the Pastuns in the south. Kabul could just about remain as the capital of the north but would need a buffer zone around it on the southern side. A new President should be elected as soon as possible.
Supremacy in the air and building a first class intelligence network on the ground would allow the Taliban and militant jihadists to be contained. Taliban leaders responsible for atrocities should be identified and brought to justice. However, the long term outlook for the country is bleak with a porous border on the east with Pakistan potentially creating displaced conflict onto the Afghan/Pakistan border. There are no easy answers but the current strategy of ramping up troop levels will create more casualties and ultimately be the precursor of scaling back forces only for the Taliban to take over.
It is time to acknowledge the futility of the war and sort out how we can remove our troops from harm's way in an orderly manner. It is time for a containment strategy instead of open warfare.

A tough alternative system of justice

The problem with all these kind of invasions is that there is no consistency of principle behind them. If there was a straight Good vs Evil principle I would argue it was naive and simplistic but at least I could see the logic behind it. However, there is the usual muddled political reasoning that defines an evil regimes such as the Taliban in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein in Iraq that must be removed by force as they are a threat to Western interests but a refusal to deal with Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe.
Evil rulers must be confronted but as shown by court cases brought against individuals in, Uganda, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Central African Republic, Republic of Kenya and the Sudan, there is now a real judicial system available to bring criminal leaders to trial within a recognised legal setting of the International Criminal Court (ICC). Likewise, cases have been successfully brought against individuals in the Former Yugoslavia and Rwanda through the International Criminal Tribunals (ICT).
When I visited the Milosevic Trial in The Hague in 2003, I saw a man facing justice. He could try and insult the judges and harangue witnesses but justice was alive and kicking. He was safely locked up and having to face those innocent people affected by his evil orders. Any dictator can appear to be enjoying the public arena but they are not there of their own volition. They can no longer enjoy the trappings of power with exorbitant wealth. They return to a small cell every night and ultimately if found guilty, will usually serve very long sentences, if not the rest of their lives. Seeing Milosevic on trial filled me with a certainty that there is a better way to all out wars unless other nations are directly threatened and as a last resort.
To bring those individuals to justice though may require specific military missions with sufficient authority from the UN Security Council following international arrest warrants issued against individuals by the ICC.  
As democracy spreads and Western justice ideals become accepted around the globe so the International Court of Justice (ICJ) should become the place to settle disputes between nations. Perhaps it will take 20 years, maybe 50 years or 100 years, but it cannot come soon enough. The evolution of humankind will one day triumph so that wars become as obsolete as those who proclaimed the Earth was flat. I am an optimist and one day peaceful, tolerant human behaviour will supplant our violent instinctive past.

Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Fabio Capello; gilt edged record

Best Blogger Tips
Oh to be the England Manager. First you are lauded for your great sporting record and writers (er sorry journalists) pontificate on your tactical prowess to bring back the next World Cup/European Championship (depending upon the timing). Then even when you have won virtually single important competitive match they will still niggle away, upset players and generally cause a huge nuisance. However, Fabio Capello has been in the role for nearly two and half years and no journalist has yet to seriously damage his reputation as the England Manager. With a win ratio of 75% after 24 games that is the best by an England manager post war.  
Manager↓England career↓Played↓Won↓Drawn↓Lost↓Win %↓
England Walter Winterbottom1946–196213978332856.1
England Alf Ramsey1963–197411369271761.1
England Joe Mercer1974733142.9
England Don Revie1974–197729148748.3
England Ron Greenwood1977–19825533121060.0
England Bobby Robson1982–19909547301849.5
England Graham Taylor1990–1993381813747.4
England Terry Venables1994–1996231111147.8
England Glenn Hoddle1996–199928176560.7
England Howard Wilkinson11999–200020110.0
England Kevin Keegan1999–20001877438.9
England Peter Taylor2200010010.0
Sweden Sven-Göran Eriksson2001–20066740171059.7
England Steve McClaren2006–20071894550.0
Italy Fabio Capello2008–24182475.0
    1.^ – managed the team on two separate occasions as caretaker manager
     2.^ – managed the team on a one-off basis as caretaker manager

Fabio Capello is a man with a superb footballing history. He played as a midfielder for Roma (1 Coppa Italia), Juventus (3 Serie A titles) and AC Milan (4 Serie A titles, 1 Coppa Italia). He made 332 appearances for senior clubs and scored 45 goals. He won 32 caps for Italy and scored 8 goals including scoring the winning goal against England when Italy beat them for the first time in competitive football in 1973.
His managerial record runs as follws:-
AC Milan       1991-96             4 Serie A Titles, 1 UEFA Champions League
Real Madrid   1996-97             1 La Liga Title
AC Milan       1997-98
Roma             1999-2004         1 Serie A Title
Juventus         2004-06             2 Serie A Titles
Real Madrid   2006-07             1 La Liga Title
England          2008-
Whichever way you look at that record it is first class, nay world class.
Managing the top sides in  Europe and repeatedly winning the league and cups demonstrating his ability for tactical brilliance and management.
He has taken swift, action when the John Terry affair threatened to tear the team apart with a few brief words and incisive action.
However, it is worth raising the question of how he is coping with the tremendous stress of being the England Manager on the verge of the World Cup. He bawled out the players for a lacklustre first half against the minnows of the Platinium Stars . Today he has scolded photographers taking shots of the medical centre (not sure what was going on inside but perhaps Capello feared the long range lenses might reveal something damaging such as treatment on a England player?)
Shirt badge/Association crest
Is the Stars incident because he was genuinely fed up with the way England Players seem to be coasting around the pitch. Yes, but did he purposely set up the game to puncture the usual England complacency in a more realistic setting than just on the training ground and where his words would sting far more in the glare of the world’s press? I think he has some real nagging doubts about certain key players and wants to keep them on edge to bring the best out of them. Likewise, I wonder whether his outburst with the photographers was to demonstrate his protection for his players or whether he was worried that his carefully preparations could be blown off course by a canny photo of a possible injury? I think his avuncular approach suggests he is protective of players but only up to a certain point. He is totally ruthless in his pursuit of victory. That’s why he is right for England.

Yet it will all come down to 3 games in the group stage, last 16, quarter final, semi-final and final (if we get through them all). That is just seven games to truly judge the managerial skill (given the players he has to work with) to turn a gilt edged club record into a solid gold international country record. We wish him and the team well.