US Defence Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday voiced his concern about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan, blaming the spike on Pakistan’s failure to put pressure on insurgents there.
Not so, according to Graeme Smith, of the Globe and Mail.
ZAA NKWETA, PRESENTER: US Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Thursday voiced his concern about a sharp rise in attacks by insurgent forces in eastern Afghanistan, blaming the spike on Pakistan’s failure to put pressure on insurgents there.
ROBERT GATES, US DEFENSE SECRETARY: It is a matter of concern, of real concern. And I think that one of the reasons that we’re seeing the increase—there was the opportunity. The pressure was taken off of these people and these groups, and they’ve therefore been more free to be able to cross the border and create problems for us.
Not so, according to Graeme Smith of The Globe and Mail. I spoke to him via telephone in Kandahar.
GRAEME SMITH, THE GLOBE AND MAIL: Well, I wish that Secretary Gates would communicate better in two different ways. I wish that he would communicate better with his public affairs officers, because acknowledging that there’s a 40 percent increase in violence in the eastern area where the Americans are operating does not indicate that things are going well in that eastern area. Despite that fact, the Americans have been doing press tours, bringing international correspondents from around the world, flying them in to eastern Afghanistan, and telling them that things are going much better in the east than they are in the south, and that perhaps the countries operating the south, like Canada, should be emulating what the Americans are doing in the east, when I don’t think that there’s any argument for the east being a success story at this point. And the second way I wish that he would communicate better is that I wish he would talk to his own intelligence analysts, who say overwhelmingly that what we’re dealing with is an insurgency whose center of gravity is inside Afghanistan, that even if you built a giant concrete wall between Afghanistan and Pakistan, there would still be a massive insurgency inside Afghanistan. And blaming Pakistan is legitimate. There are serious, serious problems inside Pakistan. There’s an arriving body of evidence, including a recent RAND report that suggested the Pakistani intelligence is actively aiding the insurgency. But the fact remains that the people that the Canadians and the rest of their NATO allies are fighting here in southern Afghanistan are Afghans, and it’s an Afghan problem, and you need to deal with it inside Afghanistan. It has evolved and become more sophisticated over time as the insurgency has gained momentum. What they’re using right now is sometimes referred to as whipsaw tactics: they’re hitting the Canadians and their allies in far-flung, geographically disparate areas, forcing some kind of a reaction. The comparison is to a whipsaw—not a very strong piece of steel, but still capable of cutting down trees by sheer speed and flexibility. And the Taliban were routed from Arghandab District last week. But what you have to understand is that that’s not out of place with the Taliban’s intentions. You know, they invade areas, they force a response, and then they invade some other area. And by doing that, they maintain the initiative and create a sense of insecurity that—you know, one of the Canadian commanders here quite accurately described this as a psychological operation and a non-military operation, and the idea being that, by invading Arghandab, they prove to the local people there, who largely come from the powerful and influential Alkozai Tribe, that they are not protected by the government. And if they’re not protected by the government, they have to think, “Well, who can protect us?” And that’s exactly what the Taliban are offering.
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