The German cabinet approved the extension of Germany’s mission, as part of the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan, by 14 months on Tuesday. The German parliament has begun a debate on the mission -- a final vote is expected by the end of the month. This development comes as the rift between the two major allies in the so-called war on terror -- the US and the UK -- is widening, as military officials express differing views on how to tackle the Taliban insurgency.
As the Taliban spread their influence, coalition generals voice doubts about the possibility of long-term success in Afghanistan
"Defeatist!" That’s what US Defense Secretary Robert Gates thinks of those sceptics who have voiced doubts that the war in Afghanistan can ever be won. But seven years after the US-led coalition invaded the country to oust the Taliban, there seems to be little cause for hope. Not even a shimmer.
The Taliban are everywhere to be seen -- in the northern city of Kundus where attacks against German soldiers are on the increase, in the south where about 8,000 British soldiers are stationed and especially in the east where the US division has started suffering higher losses than in Iraq.
US General David McKiernan sees only one solution. He wants 15,000 additional troops to be deployed to Afghanistan, on top of 4,000 more that are due to go in January 2009: "These additional military capabilities are needed as quickly as possible."
But as the situation stands, it does not look as if he will get these extra 15,000 troops. Both US presidential candidates have said they would send more troops to Afghanistan but it remains to be seen whether Congress will approve the move.
Germany to extend Afghanistan mandate
For its part, Germany plans to extend its mandate in Afghanistan and will probably increase its number of troops fighting with the NATO-led international force by 1,000 to 4,500.
But other European coalition partners are reluctant to send more troops to Afghanistan.
The top British commander in the country, Brig. Mark Carleton-Smith, expressed his doubts last weekend that the ISAF troops could even win the war, unleashing a cross-Atlantic debate about how to tackle the situation and develop new strategies.
US General David McKiernan also had to admit that he was not overly optimistic: "The idea that it might get worse before it gets better is certainly a possibility."
War needs political engagement
On Monday, Kai Eide, the UN special envoy to Afghanistan also said it was clear to everybody the war could not be won “militarily. It has to be won through political means. That means political engagement”.
Seth Jones, from the US-based think tank, the Rand Corporation, suggested that this “political engagement” was especially important in the southern tribal areas.
“There really has to be much more of an effort to work with local tribal groups there,” he said, “including village-level militias because there just aren’t enough international forces or Afghan national forces to clear and hold territory in these areas."
Whilst chastising his colleagues for being “defeatist”, US Defence Secretary Gates implied he knew there was a long road ahead. He said a key element of long-term success would be negotiations with Taliban members “willing to work with the Afghan government in Kabul”.
But so far the Taliban have refused to enter into negotiations until all 70,000 foreign troops leave Afghanistan.