British officials ‘defeatist’ about Taliban: Robert Gates

October 7th, 2008 - 6:13 pm ICT by IANS  

TalibanLondon, Oct 7 (IANS) US Defence Secretary Robert Gates has criticised a “defeatist” assessment of the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, but favoured negotiations with moderate elements among the militants. “While we face significant challenges in Afghanistan, there certainly is no reason to be defeatist or to underestimate the opportunities to be successful in the long run,” Gates told journalists on board a military aircraft flying to Hungary for meetings of defence ministers of North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) countries.

He spoke after Britain’s senior army commander in Afghanistan, Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith and its Ambassador Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles were reported as saying last week that the war against the Taliban was unwinnable.

Carleton-Smith in an interview published Sunday said an “acceptable dictator” would be the best political solution for Afghanistan.

Gates agreed that there was a need to draw out moderate Taliban members for political negotiations.

“What we have seen in Iraq applies in Afghanistan,” said Gates, who oversaw a successful programme to persuade Iraqi Sunnis to join the war against the Al Qaeda.

“Part of the solution is strengthening the Afghan security forces. Part of the solution is reconciliation with people who are willing to work with the Afghan government,” he said.

While the remarks by the British officials are said to be rare public airings of views commonly held by British army officers and diplomats in Afghanistan, Foreign Secretary David Miliband has distanced himself from them.

Gates also said he will renew efforts to get NATO members to send more troops to Afghanistan, but added: “I want to make sure that everybody understands that the increase in US forces is not seen as replacements for NATO contributions, but as reinforcement.”

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