Page last updated at 23:07 GMT, Friday, 11 September 2009 00:07 UK

US 'risks Afghan Soviet failure'

By Jonathan Marcus
BBC diplomatic correspondent, Geneva

Italian soldiers in Herat province June 2009
Mr Brzezinski called for a fundamental shift in US policy in Afghanistan

A US foreign policy veteran has warned the West risks replicating the the Soviet Union's failure in Afghanistan without a fundamental change in policy.

Zbigniew Brzezinski said military engagement in the country was reaching levels similar to the Soviet invasion.

Mr Brzezinski, a former national security adviser, was speaking at a global strategy conference in Geneva.

In his balance sheet of President Obama's foreign policy, Mr Brzezinski placed himself as a critical friend.

On Afghanistan, he recognised that there had already been a significant shift away from some of the grander - and by implication, unrealisable - objectives of the Bush years.

But Mr Brzezinski - who helped Barack Obama develop his own foreign policy positions during his presidential campaign - insisted further change was still needed.

And he had a stark warning - not just for the Obama's administration, but for the West as a whole.

"In my view, we in fact are running the risk of replicating, obviously unintentionally, what happened to the Soviets," he said during the conference, organised by the London-based International Institute for Strategic Studies.

"We went into Afghanistan almost eight years ago, and we overthrew the Taliban with 300 soldiers," he said.

"Eight years later, we are beginning to move to a level of military force which is beginning to approximate the Soviet engagement and already our top generals are saying we are not winning militarily."

Mr Brzezinski welcomed the proposal from the French, German and British governments for an international conference to set clear goals.

But he stressed that in Afghanistan, just as with Middle East peace-making and the Iran nuclear dossier, time was running out.

Mr Obama's agenda was crowded, he said.

And he added there was a huge risk that this new president's performance on the international stage might not match the scale of his global ambitions.

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