Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet

August 27, 2009

richard-kemp2– Col. Richard Kemp is a former commander of British Forces in Afghanistan and the author of Attack State Red, an account of British military operations in Afghanistan published by Penguin. The opinions expressed are his own. –

Disillusionment with the inability of the Kabul administration to govern fairly or to significantly reduce violence played a role in the reportedly low turnout at the polls in Helmand.

It is critical that this changes if we are to avoid another Vietnam. The South Vietnamese Army, well trained and equipped, lost heart once the U.S. withdrew, collapsing at the first push, partly because their corrupt and ineffective administration was not worth fighting for.

That an election was held at all in Afghanistan’s most violent province is an achievement. But despite a major operation to drive out the Taliban, the insurgents deterred large numbers of voters. This illustrates just how steep a mountain NATO has to climb. But it does not mean we cannot prevail against them in Helmand.

As President Obama says: “This isn’t a war of choice; it’s a war of necessity.” Home grown British terrorists have only demonstrated an ability to kill our people when they have attended serious training and had face-to-face direction from war-hardened jihadists.

The Al Qaida leadership and their camps were driven into Pakistan in 2001. U.S. pursuit across the border using unmanned aerial vehicle strikes has been remarkably effective, resulting directly in the recent reduction of the UK terrorist threat level.

Al Qaida is not just a “global franchise” but also a solid organization that needs places to meet, to plan and to train terrorists. It cannot all be done on the internet.  Substantially unable to function now in Pakistan, the leadership is actively seeking a new base – perhaps in Yemen, Somalia or North Africa. In any of these they would be much more exposed. Their real desire is to return to Afghanistan. NATO forces are preventing that.

But we cannot do it forever. Success equals reducing the insurgency to a level that can be managed by a viable Afghan government backed by a capable security force which can prevent the country becoming a base for attacks on the West including Britain.

How long will this take? The answer to that is how long do we have?  The next U.S. election is at the end of 2012 and the patience of the British electorate will have no greater longevity.

Even as I have defined it, we will not achieve success fully in that time-frame. But we must be very clearly succeeding in a way that we are not now. And certainly in the British forces, we cannot continue with anything like the current rate of casualties over that period.

To counter the Taliban’s present devastatingly effective tactics of mines, roadside bombs and booby traps we need better surveillance and better intelligence, achieved in part through greater active support from the local people. We need to control the night as well as the day. While we build the Afghan army, this can only be done with more of our own troops. A lot more.

Casting aside inter-service rivalries, every sinew of strength of the British armed forces must now go into Afghanistan.  Even that will not be enough.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown must take close personal direction of this war through a war cabinet that will drive every relevant government department to achieve real progress in the short time we have left. And crucially to communicate our war aims to the British people with fargreater effect.


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Good afternoon,” Mister Gordon should threat the crown to go a republic in case She doesn’t order the British wirhdrawal from Afghanistan, or vice versa “.JPWK

Posted by JPWK | Report as abusive

I can’t imagine how a war cabinet would work. It’s my impression that historically speaking a war in Afghanistan is unwinnable.

Posted by Mildred | Report as abusive

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Posted by Brown must create Afghanistan war cabinet  | Report as abusive

Hopefully Mr Brown has the energy and ability to make such decisions. He does a very good impersonation of the “invisible man” and seems to leave Peter Mandleson to do all the talking. It’d be nice to see him taking some kind of leadership role not just in regard to the Afghan war (along with other NATO “leaders”), but the economy as well. The way things seem to be going there won’t be much need for the British born terrorists to destroy anything in the UK, it’ll slowly shrivel up and die all by itself and the winners will be India, China and the other Asian nations.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

“…it’s a war of necessity”? Don’t kid yourself.Can’t speak for the hopelessly compromised Obamatron, but to Gordon Brown, even as a young man, this much was clear as daylight:Like all wars, it’s a war of necessity only to those who smugly profit from endless, mindless and strung-out-at-all-costs conflict on bogus grounds in which entire cultures are destroyed while war criminal “contractors” and their suppliers get rich at an insatiable rate and incalculable cost.Those people need sorting out, right quick, every last one. By law, that peace may reign.

Posted by The Bell | Report as abusive

In response to the posting by The Bell. You state all wars are necessary only to contractors. If someone is pointing a gun at your head threatening to shoot – I garantee your response is ‘necessary’.

Posted by Nick Maddalena | Report as abusive

In response Nick Maddalena’s comment I’d like to suggest that the current Afghan war might have been going on to long with too many unclear objectives, is potentially counter-productive and a better use of planning and resources could and possibly should be sought. The reason for my thinking is best described in the following couple of paragraphs I like to quote from Gabor Steingart’s stunning (literally, jaw-dropping) book “The War for Wealth” (which isn’t about shoot-em-up wars per se).”It is no accident that the emergence of the new underclass coincides with the loss of jobs to emerging nations. The process of deindustrialization may very well be more significant to the United States than the fall of the Iron Curtain was for Europe. The process of disintegration within society pose a greater threat to the United States as a whole today than international terrorism, despite politicians’ propensity to focus on fighting the later. Poverty is also colour-blind. Indeed, the majority of the roughly 38 million Americans living below the poverty line at the end of 2007 are white, not black.Bombs can shake democracy and the market economy but not eliminate them altogether. The economic erosion process we are discussing here is far more destructive. First, it eradicates a society’s jobs, then it eats away at its financial underpinnings, and, in the end, it deprives society of its democratic legitimacy. How much is it worth to be a citizen of a country in which other citizens are shut out of the working world? What good are civil liberties if the right to leading an independent life is lost? Is it acceptable that only the educated are able to effectively exercise their constitutional right to participate in society, by voting, for instance? And what happens if another 40 million white-collar jobs do infact go offshore in our lifetime, as Princeton professor Alan Blinder has predicted.”The Afghanistan war/reconstruction should have been uninterrupted by the Iraq war which may have made a difficult job next to impossible. I personally believe Sadam would have been a useful ally in the war against Al Qaida (which isn’t the same as saying I like him as a leader) in a similar way that Gaddafi and Bouteflika are. But that, from here, is easy to say.

Posted by Peter H | Report as abusive

So Nick the proper response is to use hundreds of billions of me and my countrypeople’s income to nation-build? You can’t win wars against idealogies unless it’s a world war.

Posted by Michael Ham | Report as abusive

I believe the problem lies in the increasing disenchantment of the Afghans with their government and its western backers for not fulfilling their promises.Warlords, drug smugglers and violators of human rights are returning to the Government in a full flow, People are loosing their innocent loved once to the bombardment of the US airplanes.Jobs are hard to come by, and the prices for basis goods are sky high. Taliban are spending money (where the source is, is a mystery), and people when hungry do whatever they can, even if it is joining the Taliban, and they don’t care if they are deemed as bad guys in the eyes of the west.Probably, the Taliban threat was a major factor in deterring people from going to the polling stations; However, I have met many people from Kabul, a relatively safe area of the country, who did not vote just because they knew that the elections will be rigged by Karzai in South and East and by Abdullah Abdullah in the north.For the western effort to be effective in Afghanistan, they need to focus on the Afghan Government and get it to be viable, we all know that west can play a major part in changing bad governments, and Long as we have Kazai and the warlord in Kabul, British and American troops will continue dying, no matter what cabinet Mr Gordon Brown establishes.As it is evident in the history books, wars are never won by force in Afghanistan. So we need to change the way we look at this problem, and Mr Karzai and Warlords from the north should in the heart of this change.

Posted by Siddiq | Report as abusive

Well over twenty-five years ago, R. Buckminster Fuller, the genius of architecture and developer of the geodesic dome, wrote that Afghanistan was the key to the world of Asia and had been for centuries. It sits astride both the east-west and north-south trade routes of Asia.Fuller believed then, with some justification, that the Soviet Red Army would finally win the struggle inside of that broken country. It was one of the few things that he was ever wrong about — unless — after much loss of men, money and prestige, the old Soviets folded and went to a waiting game. They had been well-bloodied there as western countries sent billions into Pakistan to support whichever Afghan minority was willing to fight the Reds.As we now see, the best fighters then also turned out to be the most radical of the Muslim fundamentalists. They won because they were willing to do everything and any thing necessary to break the Soviet Red Army morale. We in the western countries figured this was a good deal, as they did the fighting while we sent money and watched.Now, ‘the worm has turned,’ and the same elements which were so ready to butcher the mostly-Russian forces are now also ready to butcher western troops. The key fact of this is as obvious now as it was twenty-five years ago: they, the radicals of the Taliban, have nowhere else to go and they do not really want to go any other place !!We westerners, on the other hand, are deep into combat fatigue after eight years of Bush, Blair, Brown and now Obama doing the bungling. The one solution not being proposed is most likely the one solution which will be effective. Call it a victory and then get out.Get everybody who is not “native” out of there and then bring them home while they are still combat effective. Isolate the entire country as if it was a tuberculosis or Yellow Fever ward. Get out. Stay out. In less than ten years and for almost no more money, Afghanistan will either be empty of all its people or very, very quiet.Pakistan, on the other side of the passes is apparently on the way to becoming a truly modern society, even if it is a defacto military dictatorship, and the people there have a reason to embrace modern ideas while keeping their mostly Muslim culture. Trade with them and let them watch the passes from their side of the mountains. Let Afghanistan’s fevered infection burn itself out, because it’s their country and not ours.

Posted by Richard C. Green | Report as abusive

Col. Kemp’s view is that of the new ‘enlightened’ counter insurgency trained and educated soldier, gradually permeating the ranks of the conventional US and to a lesser extent UK military (in the latter case, it’s always been more respected).Unfortunately he’s probably already out of date.The counter insurgency ‘Malayan Emergency’ success, Indo-Chine/Algerian/Rhodesian/Vietnam failure dichotomy (as exemplified in Marston, Malkasian’s 2008 book ‘Counterinsurgency In Modern Warfare) is finally becoming the Military Establishment viewpoint, after being a peripheral study for years.But:1. The Malayan success was paid for by a significant regional economic upsurge entirely absent in Afghanistan.2. The recent elimination of the Tamil Tigers by purely military means reasserts counter-insurgency’s ‘Westmoreland Heresy’. It’s not that conventional forces cannot beat guerrillas; they can win if they are allowed to win by those who have the WILL to win.3. The castration of FARC currently is another CONTEMPORARY example of brute military force succeeding. [“They come out the forest, we kill the bastards” –a rural Columbian bus guard’s comment last week] Vietnam was 50 years ago.4. Asymmetric warfare is two edged, it’s not just the method of the military weak fighting the military strong, it’s ALSO the passive support structure of containment by the politically divided to avoid seriously engaging the military weak/politically strong.5. Malaya/Vietnam were ‘Red’ counter insurgencies. Afghanistan and more recent guerrilla activities are ‘White’. Communist guerrillas have had a history of being turned, the most successful military counter insurgency technique by far has been the ‘pseudo-gang’ using ex-Reds against Reds. How many Al Quaida/Taliban/Pashtuns are wimping out? Negligible. ‘White’ guerrillas are clerical, religious, reactionary, right wing, and far more constitutionally fanatical than any politically indoctrinated ‘Red’. This obvious distinction arose when the first prominent western ‘White\': Timothy McVeigh obtained this distinction through execution; contrasting the long history of surrender in the various RAF’s, IRA and Weathermen on home ground; but is not recognised in the counter insurgency mindset yet.6. Like most regular soldiers, Col. Kemp appears to be fighting the ‘last war’, not the present.7. There’s a new paradigm out there. Classic Counter-Insurgency was a side effect of ‘brush wars’ conducted under the controlling auspices of two rival superpowers.That doesn’t exist now, and the reality of single superpower pre-eminent control presently is increasingly uncertain. Softly softly counter insurgency is probably a luxury it doesn’t need, and cannot afford nor organise in the long term, only existing as a daily sop to its prevailing political classes who are not educated widely enough to stomach the military necessities displayed successfully in Columbia and Ceylon recently.Counter insurgency is a fascinating subject Col. Kemp, but if you’re starting from a perspective dominated by the army training book, or those uninvolved historian’s, you’re already a step behind. Ask Special Branch for a copy of ‘Towards a Citizen’s Militia’- its the original, local counter counter insurgency starting point, which may provoke the mindset necessary to develop counter counter counter insurgency warfare!”To out perform a revolutionary you must be more revolutionary, to out perform a reactionary, you must be more reactionary…”*Vive La Contra Revolution!Vive Le Reaction!!*[Col. Mike Hoare- his actions, merely my words!]

Posted by Rhoops | Report as abusive

i would have thought that the army’s technical side’s main priority would be to devise equipment that can detect mines and road-side bombs. Please don’t say that it’s too expensive.

Posted by Techne | Report as abusive

Please, for goodness sake. Let’s have some thought here. There will be war in this country, even after this war has it’s columns in the annals of history. Afghanistan is where the first humans emerged. Afghanistan is the most strategicaly placed nation on earth. A perfect base for world domination. Alexsander the great realised this. The British Empire knew this. The Soviet Union knew. Afghanistan has the biggest natural supply of opium in the world. Nations in the the future will see these facts and have another try. Let’s be honest, wherever there is war, there is profit. The profitiers are behind the the start of most wars but never have had an answer to ending them. This war is unwinable, immoral and unjust. History is there to be learned. Come on Leaders of nations, do you forget your history lessons at school. If history is not important, then why is it even taught? America has the means to win this war milatarely, but not the public conviction( and their government know’s it). They need the middle eastern arab nations (except Saudi Arabia) to be to blame for all the worlds ills. To keep the region unstable and their citizens frightend. Their grand strategy for many years, has been; to dupe their puppet state of Isreal into utilising their military power to grab iran. To appease the american thirst for closure on (9.11). Look in history. Read about the Crusades. If you believe that that war about religeon, and not about profit, then you do not understand the reasons for war. The powers that be, have always made reasons for public support for war, this can never work as they forget their people,will eventually work it out for themselves.

Posted by Centurionb | Report as abusive