'We failed in Afghanistan': A new consensus emerges

Diplomacy, not guns, should have been the focus, military and political leaders are now agreeing
Diplomacy, not guns, should have been the focus, military and political leaders are now agreeing
Alex Stevenson By

Both Britain's military and political leaders are blaming the west's failure in Afghanistan on the lack of a political solution after 2001.

David Cameron was quick to agree with the UK's General Nick Carter, the deputy commander of the International Security Assistance Force taking on the Taliban, that the biggest mistakes on Afghanistan were made soon after the 2001 invasion.

Carter told the Guardian the turmoil faced in Afghanistan was caused by "essentially political problems" and that these "are only ever solved by people talking to each other".

Efforts to begin peace talks with the Taliban are now underway. Cameron was happy to point the finger against previous governments while visiting British forces in Afghanistan for armed forces day.


"I think you can argue about whether the settlement we put in place after 2001 could have been better arranged," he told Sky News.

"Of course you can make that argument. Since I became prime minister in 2010 I have been pushing all the time for a political process and that political process is now under way."

Talks with the Taliban have been thrown into doubt after Afghan president Hamid Karzai suggested the government in Kabul could resist a deal brokered by Pakistan.

Cameron is meeting with Pakistan's new prime minister Nawaz Sharif later today and is expected to encourage him to engage with Afghanistan more closely.

But the Reuters news agency quoted Karzai as saying: "Any system that is imposed on us ... the Afghan people will reject.

"Delivering a province or two to the Taliban will be seen by the Afghan people as an invasion of Afghanistan, as an effort from outside to weaken and splinter this country."

Cameron also faces tensions with the UK military over Britain's future involvement in the country after its troops are withdrawn from frontline operations after 2014.

Military chiefs are concerned that the Afghan security forces will not be able to cope with the Taliban threat if peace talks fail, the Observer reported.

Cameron rejected anything other than a full UK withdrawal, however.

"After 2015, we have said that our contribution will be an officer-training academy, which President Karzai asked us to establish," he said.

"We have not made any other commitments, and nor have we been asked to. Of course, other Nato countries may choose to do more and assist the Afghan forces – not in a combat role. But from everything I have heard, the Afghan forces are doing a good job; they are highly capable, motivated and they are capable of delivering security."

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