By Peter Graff
LONDON- The West is to blame for the resurgence of the Taliban because it sent too few troops to Afghanistan, but an expanding NATO peace force will now turn the tide, the force’s commander said on Thursday.
British Lieutenant General Dav
id Richards, commander of the multinational force that is due to take control in the dangerous south within weeks, acknowledged fighting has been tougher than hoped, but predicted success as his troops win hearts and minds.
“Although we always knew we were going to have to fight to secure an environment in which reconstruction and development could take place, clearly we are having to look more closely at the way we go about it,” he told Britain’s Sky News.
Across the south this year, guerrillas opposed to the government of President Hamid Karzai have waged the fiercest fighting since the Taliban were driven out of Kabul in 2001.
In some areas Taliban guerrillas took control of towns and villages while foreign troops stayed away.
The vast southern Helmand province, where Richards will now command more than 4,500 British troops, had just 100 American soldiers before the British began arriving in March.
Richards said blame for allowing the Taliban back was “a collective thing”.
“If you cast your mind back to late 2001 the Taliban looked throughly defeated,” he said.
“That assumption worked through to the number of troops and perhaps a slightly slower effort in the south than, with the benefit of hindsight, we now believe was probably required. But I don’t believe the thing is irrecoverable.
“If you go down to the south, most of the Taliban have very little collective support. They’ve exploited a vacuum; we now need to fill that vacuum. I’ve got the troops, I’ve got very clear political direction.”
“I’m pretty confident — and my Afghan friends tell me this — that within 6-9 months we can make significant progress.”
Richards, who already commands the relatively calm north and west, takes command of the south from the United States around the end of this month, and of the east three months later.
Focusing too much on Kabul and ignoring local leaders had been a mistake in the past, but would now be fixed, he said. — Reuter