Friday, December 4, 2009
Travelling by road in Afghanistan 'now more dangerous than under Taliban'
Major General Nick Carter said that, before the 2001 invasion, young women could travel alone between major cities without risk of harm. Now, there is a constant threat from sophisticated IEDs and criminal gangs who rob and kidnap passengers.
The admission heaped further pressure on Gordon Brown's strategy in Afghanistan, suggesting that little had changed despite the long and bloody campaign.
But a Ministry of Defence spokesman sought to play down the remark, saying that security under the Taliban was enforced brutally whereas coalition forces would enforce it with democracy and justice.
"The difference, I think we need to be clear, is that when the Taliban were here they did ensure security on the main highways and they did it very effectively," Maj Gen Carter said.
"You could put your daughter on a bus in Kabul sure in the knowledge that she would get in one piece to Kandahar.
"That is not the case at the moment, and we need to change that."
Roadside bombs planted by the Taliban are a major part of the problem, accounting for around 70 per cent of casualties among coalition troops alone.
But the criminal gangs that operate with seeming impunity are of equal concern to locals, who complain that even the country’s main ring road, Highway One, is now plagued by bandits.
Karim, a 42-year-old coach driver on the route from Kabul to Herat via Kandahar, said there were robbers “everywhere”.
“Once they stopped my bus in Nimroz province and they robbed us all," he said. "They went through all our pockets and took everything.”
The banditry also provides the Taliban with influence since in rural areas, people often turn to them rather than coalition forces for a form of redress. Under their harsh system, murderers were publicly executed by relatives of their victim and thieves had hands cut off.
Maj Gen Carter said that ensuring people were able to use key routes through the country would from now on be a priority for coalition forces.
"I think that up until relatively recently, probably the summer, we've been very much focused on the insurgency," he said.
"What we are doing now, which is slightly different in terms of approach, is that we are trying to protect the population where he or she lives, and trying to ensure their freedom of movement on some of the key arteries between where they live."
To improve the security offered, Maj Gen Carter said forces will use the Afghan police and military "to the best of their capabilities".
Diplomats have warned of problems training up the local police from a pool of frequently drug-addicted and often corrupt officers.
But Maj Gen Carter insisted the problem had been a lack of funding which will now be redressed. As part of the US-led surge planned by Nato, funds for training the police and Army are set to rise from £2.2bn to £4.5bn next year.
"If we had invested [in the Afghan police] in the way we invested in the Afghan army in 2002, my sense is we would have an institution that we could be equally proud of," he said.
"The challenge we've got now is to create, predominantly in the South, a Pashtun police force that is respected as the army is nationally. We have to do that as, ultimately, it will be a local police force. It will be the force that will make the local population secure.
"I'm not denying it's going to be a challenge, but it's a challenge we're going to embrace and it's a challenge that a lot of people are prepared to make an effort to achieve."
* A soldier was killed instantly while fighting the Taliban when his vehicle struck a mine left over from the Russian-Afghan war, an inquest heard yesterday.
Sergeant Lee Johnson, 33, was commanding a Vector six-wheel armoured vehicle which exploded as it was making its way up a steep desert slope in December 2007.