Fall back, men, Afghanistan is a nasty war we can never win

Britain’s commanders ignored every warning that the Taliban were the toughest fighters on earth.

The American secretary of state, Condoleezza Rice, flies to Britain this week to meet a crisis entirely of London and Washington’s creation. They have no strategy for the continuing occupation of Afghanistan. They are hanging on for dear life and praying for something to turn up. Britain is repeating the experience of Gordon in Khartoum, of the Dardanelles, Singapore and Crete, of politicians who no longer read history expecting others to die for their dreams of glory.

Every independent report on the Nato-led operation in Afghanistan cries the same message: watch out, disaster beckons. Last week America’s Afghanistan Study Group, led by generals and diplomats of impeccable credentials, reported on “a weakening international resolve and a growing lack of confidence”. An Atlantic Council report was more curt: “Make no mistake, Nato is not winning in Afghanistan.” The country was in imminent danger of becoming a failed state.

A clearly exasperated Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, has broken ranks with the official optimism and committed an extra 3,000 marines to the field, while sending an “unusually stern” note to Germany demanding that its 3,200 troops meet enemy fire. Germany, like France, has rejected that plea. Yet it is urgent since the Canadians have threatened to withdraw from the south if not relieved. An equally desperate Britain is proposing to send half-trained territorials to the front, after its commanders ignored every warning that the Taliban were the toughest fighters on earth.

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