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Last Updated: Wednesday, 12 December 2007, 14:58 GMT
Dismantling the Taleban is the aim
By Paul Reynolds
World affairs correspondent, BBC News website

Mastiff armoured vehicle
British ordering 150 new armoured vehicles for Afghanistan
If, as the British Prime Minister Gordon Brown claims, "we are winning the battle" in Afghanistan, then why should there need to be a "shift of emphasis" as a senior foreign office official put it?

The answer is that the military and civilian aspects of this counter-insurgency operation have got out of balance.

While the fighting goes on, with neither side looking likely to win outright, the feeling in London is that more needs to be done to develop politics and the economy in Afghanistan and make it worthwhile for people to support the government.

"We need to step up a gear," said the British official. "We need to reposition the counter-insurgency strategy and make it more politically-led."

Dismantle not defeat

An official from the British ministry of defence added: "There will be a clearer political framework for the military. There will be more support for the critical effort to dismantle the insurgency."

The word "dismantle" seems to be favoured these days over "defeat".

To translate that from the jargon, it means that victory cannot be won by fighting the Taleban on the battlefield alone.

So, while the military effort goes on, the political effort will be stepped up.

On the military side, Britain is itself ordering another 150 better armoured vehicles and has joined the Americans in calling for other Nato countries to do more. So there will be no slackening of the tempo.

Indeed, the emphasis in a briefing to Congress by the US defence secretary, Robert Gates, on Monday was rather more on the military side than the political side emphasised by Mr Brown and his briefers.

Mr Gates said he would not let Nato "off the hook".

Politically, the effort will be spearheaded by a more systematic effort to divide the Taleban. "We are not talking to the Taleban, we are splitting the Taleban," said the British official. Whatever talking is done will be left to the Afghans.

Taleban tiers

The concept is that there are three tiers in the Taleban. The top tier is made up of the irreconcilable leadership. The second tier consists of locally based commanders and the bottom tier are the ordinary foot soldiers.

It is the second tier that is being targeted and the hope is that middle level commanders will bring a lot of the third tier with them. Some 5,000 ex-Taleban fighters are said to have come over before.

There are conditions. Defectors will have to renounce violence and accept the constitution.

Key words

The buzzwords being used about Afghanistan right now are - Afghanistan, localisation, reconciliation, and (an old one) reconstruction.

There will be more support for the critical effort to dismantle the insurgency
British official

Afghanistan involves building up the role of the Afghan army. Its size will increase from 50,000 to 70,000 (and even to 80,000). It was given a battalion-sized role in the retaking of Musa Qala this last week and that is supposed to be the example for the future. However, the exact role of that battalion remains a little unclear, especially as to how key it really was.

Local defence forces will also be built up to try to ensure that the Taleban does not simply walk back in after Nato troops have left a battle zone.

As for another delicate issue, the poppy crop, there remains a big difference between the Americans and most other allies. The US wants to destroy the poppies from the air using chemicals but this is firmly resisted by the British, who remain the so-called "lead partner nation" with the Afghans on the issue.

This will be a long haul.

A new UN envoy

One "big idea being pressed by the British government is for the appointment of a senior international figure to be the UN representative for Afghanistan. The name of Lord (Paddy) Ashdown, who ran Bosnia-Herzegovina after the civil war, has been mentioned.

Lord Ashdown has not shared the optimistic view of Afghanistan expressed by Mr Brown. In October, he remarked about Afghanistan: "We have lost, I think, and success is now unlikely."

The British government's view is that success would be more likely if Lord Ashdown was on hand to help.

Paul.Reynolds-INTERNET@bbc.co.uk

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