Afghan President 'Has Lost Faith in US Ability to Defeat Taliban'

Published on
by
The Guardian/UK

Afghan President 'Has Lost Faith in US Ability to Defeat Taliban'

Afghanistan's former head of intelligence says President Hamid Karzai is increasingly looking to Pakistan to end insurgency

by
Jon Boone

US soldiers in Logar province, Afghanistan. (Photograph: Nikola Solic/Reuters)

President Hamid Karzai has lost faith in the US strategy in Afghanistan and is increasingly looking to Pakistan to end the insurgency, according to those close to Afghanistan's former head of intelligence services.

Amrullah
Saleh, who resigned last weekend, believes the president lost
confidence some time ago in the ability of Nato forces to defeat the Taliban.

As
head of the National Directorate of Security, Saleh was highly regarded
in western circles. He has said little about why he quit, other than
that the Taliban attack on last week's peace jirga or assembly in Kabul
was for him the "tipping point"; the interior minister, Hanif Atmar,
also quit, and their resignations were accepted by Karzai.

Privately
Saleh has told aides he believes Karzai's approach is dangerously out
of step with the strategy of his western backers. "There came a time
when [Karzai] lost his confidence in the capability of the coalition or
even his own government [to protect] this country," a key aide told the
Guardian.

Saleh believes Karzai has long thought this, but his
views were crystallised in the aftermath of last year's election when
millions of votes were found to be fraudulent; Karzai blamed the US, UK
and United Nations for the fraud.

According to the source, Saleh
is deeply concerned by Karzai's noticeably softer attitude towards
Pakistan. The president has long dropped his past habit of excoriating
Pakistan for aiding the Taliban.

Saleh also echoes complaints of
US commanders that Karzai refuses to behave like a commander-in-chief,
and is not publicly leading the counterinsurgency campaign devised by
Stanley McChrystal, the US commander of Nato forces.

In London
today, the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, warned that progress
needed to be made. "In all coalition countries the public expects to
see us move in the right direction [but] will not tolerate the
perception of a stalemate, where we are losing our young men."

Gates
also warned of "a high level of violence, especially this summer", as
US forces push deeper into southern provinces where the Taliban are
strongest. Today in the south, insurgents shot down a Nato helicopter,
killing four US troops, while a British soldier died in a separate
attack. In Islamabad in Pakistan, an assault on a depot by insurgents
destroyed 50 lorries belonging to the Nato military supply chain.

Saleh's
resignation on Sunday, along with Atmar, was a huge blow to the
government, which is otherwise largely lacking in high-calibre senior
officials. He was strongly supported by the CIA and MI6, and had a
reputation as hardworking and honest. His six years at the head of what
is probably Afghanistan's least dysfunctional state body gave him
extensive access to Karzai, a man he still regards as a "patriot" and
whom he is reluctant to publicly criticise.

But, according to
Saleh's aides, the final straw came last Sunday when Karzai apparently
questioned his loyalty during a stormy meeting at the presidential
palace, appearing not to believe Saleh and Atmar's account of how two
insurgents armed with rocket launchers, one dressed as a woman, were
able to get so close to a meeting of 1,600 national leaders.

Saleh's
colleagues say that Karzai even accused the two men of a plot with the
Americans and the British to wreck his peace plan.

Saleh's
friends say that, because Karzai believes Nato is unable to deal with
insurgent sanctuaries on the eastern border, he is looking for an
alternative strategy: rather than use western support to "harden"
Afghanistan against its neighbour, he is instead striking a less robust
attitude to Pakistan and the Taliban.

The former intelligence
head is outraged by the tone of the jirga, which stressed the role of
the weak and corrupt Afghan state in fomenting insurgency. And he was
appalled by Karzai's post-jirga announcement that a commission would be
set up to release Taliban prisoners not held on solid evidence – such
evidence in many cases came from Saleh's directorate.

But Karzai
is not alone. McChrystal and diplomats have for months argued that
Pakistan is rethinking its support for the Taliban after deadly attacks
on Pakistani cities, and say arrests of Taliban commanders, such as
Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar in February, are proof of the new mood in
Pakistan – something Saleh disputes.

Casualties rise

There
has been an increase in violence in Afghanistan as US commanders put
the final touches to a plan to secure the Taliban's southern heartland
of Kandahar, an operation they hope will turn the tide of the war.

The latest casualties yesterday took Nato's toll to 29 deaths in nine days, according to an AP count. The United States,
whose some 94,000 troops vastly outnumber the rest of the allies'
contributions in Afghanistan, has lost 17 service members since Sunday.

The
downing of an American Blackhawk helicopter in Helmand province saw
four American crew die, but a couple of wounded British soldiers being
carried on board survived and were transferred to another Blackhawk.
Their injuries are said to be not life-threatening. Helmand provincial
spokesman Daoud Ahmadi said the helicopter was shot down about midday
in Sangin district during an operation involving Nato and Afghan
security forces. Taliban spokesman Qari Yousef Ahmadi said the
insurgents shot off two rockets to down the helicopter. AP

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