From The Times January 25, 2010
British soldiers of 3 Rifles on patrol with the Afghan National Army near Sangin, Helmand Province
Tom Coghlan, Defence Correspondent, and Jerome Starkey in Kabul
British troops will have to fight the Taleban for another five years, according to a leaked draft of the communiqué that will conclude the London conference on Afghanistan this week.
Participating governments are also expected to agree to bribes totalling hundreds of millions of pounds which will be paid to leading insurgents in the hope that they will stop fighting.
The controversial plan is likely to anger relatives of British soldiers killed by the Taleban in Helmand province. Last night the MoD said that a 251st serviceman had died, while the most senior US commander in the war zone predicted that the violence would get worse before it got better.
Gordon Brown, the host of the summit which begins on Thursday, will present the plan for stabilising Afghanistan. It foresees a bloody endgame, with Afghan forces only gradually taking on their rightful role over several years.
The draft closing statement lays down a timeline which is significantly less optimistic than that envisaged by President Obama, who has suggested that US forces would aim to begin drawing down troops from mid-2011.
It commits Afghan forces to “taking the lead and conducting the majority of operations in the insecure areas of Afghanistan within three years and taking responsibility for physical security within five years”.
“Providing conditions are met”, it adds, some of the more stable regions of the country may be put under the control of Afghan security forces at the end of this year or in early 2011, with Western troops providing support.
Yesterday Bob Ainsworth, the Defence Secretary, acknowledged that the transition to a more peaceful Afghanistan would be a lengthy process. “We’ll be able to hand over parts of Afghanistan long before we hand over other parts,” he said.
A similar note of caution was struck by the top US general, David Petraeus, who told The Times in an interview that fighting in Helmand and elsewhere in the south could intensify this summer. He warned that the particular combination of factors that produced a decisive drop in violence following the 2007 Iraq surge were unlikely to be replicated as quickly or dramatically in Afghanistan.
The centrepiece of the London conference, attended by countries with troops in Afghanistan, will be the reconciliation plan. It promises “an honourable place in society” to those who cut their ties with “al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups”. It will be underwritten by a “Peace and Reintegration Trust Fund” over the next three years.
The Times has learnt that the US, Britain and Japan are the principal donors to the scheme, the details of which were thrashed out in a meeting involving diplomats from 20 countries in Abu Dhabi two weeks ago.
“The hope is the Afghans will present the plan in London. Then the Americans, the British and the Japanese will open up the purse strings and bankroll it to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” said a senior official briefed on the discussions.
The Government will seek to justify the London plan by arguing that peace in Afghanistan requires all sides to be involved in the process. “When people say to me, ‘Should the Afghan Government be talking to the Taleban?’, I have a simple answer: ‘Yes, they should’,” David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, told the BBC.