Britain’s former ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles has criticised the conduct of the Afghan war and described the tactics of US commander General David Petraeus as ‘profoundly wrong’. Speaking to The Guardian he said that the future CIA chief should be ‘ashamed of himself’ for making claims about the number of commanders his forces had killed.
Cowper-Coles, who also served as the United Kingdom’s special envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan, further commented on Petraeus saying “He has increased the violence, trebled the number of special forces raids by British, American, Dutch and Australian special forces going out killing Taliban commanders, and there has been a lot more rather regrettable boasting from the military about the body count”. He added that the use of statistics was ‘profoundly wrong and not conducive to a stable political settlement.’
Earlier this year, Petraeus told Congress that his forces were killing or capturing 360 insurgent leaders every three months. While conventional thinking is that this tactic will pressurise the Taliban into coming to the negotiating table, Cowper-Coles insists it will have the opposite effect. Although some may be more willing to talk he says ‘for every dead Pashtun warrior, there will be 10 pledged to revenge’.
“Of course it produces tactical success in cleansing insurgents out of particular areas, but it’s essentially moving water around a puddle, and I think any general who boasts of the number of Pashtun insurgents he’s killed should be ashamed of himself,” he said.
He added: “Regrettably, General Petraeus has curiously ignored his own principles of counter-insurgency in the field manual, which speaks of politics being the predominant factor in dealing with an insurgency.”
Petraeus is expected to leave Afghanistan in September to take up his new role as head of the CIA. Cowper-Coles compared the US commander unfavourably with his predecessor, General Stanley McChrystal, whose central approach was to protect Afghan civilians, even if it meant greater caution in the pursuit of the Taliban.
According to The Guardian, Cowper-Coles focused his efforts while UK special envoy on persuading the Obama administration to concentrate on a political settlement and start talking to the Taliban. And while some reports suggest that Washington has initiated such contacts, British officials say that Marc Grossman, the US special envoy on Afghanistan and Pakistan leading the outreach effort, is having trouble finding any credible Taliban representatives to engage in even talks about talks.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 27th, 2011.