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How the US plans to defeat the Taliban

By Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC
March 28, 2009 13:23 IST
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Bruce Riedel, who co-chaired the new strategy for Afghanistan and Pakistan unveiled by President Barack Obama on Friday, has said the way the Al Qaeda terrorist havens in Pakistan will be dismantled through "the combination of military operations -- aggressive military operations on the Afghan side -- and working energetically with the Pakistani government to shut down these safe havens."

Riedel, a former Central Intelligence Agency operative and erstwhile director for South Asia in the National Security Council in the Bill Clinton administration, Riedel predicted at a a briefing conducted at the White House, that this modus operandi would "create the synergy which we hope will then lead to their destruction."

Riedel was circumspect when asked if the Obama administration supports Afghan President Hamid Karzai, whom the new aministration has indicated would like to see go since rampant corruption in Kabul has become one of the most aggressive recruiting tools for the Taliban among the Afghan populace.

"We support the elected leadership of Afghanistan and we support the elected leadership of Pakistan," he said. "In the election process, this is a decision for the Afghan and Pakistani people -- it is not an American decision, and we are not endorsing candidates."

Richard Holbrooke, Obama's Special Representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan, who also participated in the briefing said, "The United States will neither support nor oppose any candidate in these elections."

"We believe the election should be free, fair, open, and the candidates should operate from a level playing field," he said," and noted that this had been made clear to Karzai and that "we've reviewed it with the other candidates, and that's really all we're going to say on that subject."

But Holbrooke pointed out that "no American chief has spoken about corruption this way ever before in open."

"We view it as a cancer eating away at the country and it has to be dealt with. And, obviously, we're not going to lay out how we're going to deal with it. To some extent, we don't know yet. There's so much dispute about it."

Holbrooke said, "It's a huge recruiting opportunity for the Taliban. It's one on their major things they exploit."

But he reiterated that "I can't lay out to you how exactly we're going to do this. We're just starting out. And by the way, we're in the middle of an election campaign in Afghanistan, which complicates everything enormously."

When Riedel was informed about the Taliban's reaction to Obama's strategy that the US is repeating the mistakes of the erstwhile Soviet Union when it invaded Afghanistan in the late 1970s and ultimately suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of the mujahedin, he slammed Taliban leader Mullah Omar and his Taliban saying, "They want to take Afghanistan back to the medieval hell that they created in the 1990s."

"But there are many of those involved in the insurgency who may not be committed as that, and if we see them momentum of the Taliban broken this summer and over the course of the fighting season, we may see some fractures within that movement."

"And, I suspect that the core Taliban leadership is very, very worried about just that kind of thing happening," Riedel said.

Michelle Flournoy, a senior staffer on the National Security Council and key aide to National Security Adviser General (retired) Jim Jones, who assisted Riedel with the strategic review, who also participated in the briefing, asserted that "there's absolutely no valid comparison between the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan -- which was an occupation to control a country, repress a population, install their own sort of puppet leadership."

"We are there to, first and foremost, combat terrorism and protect our own interests and our own people from attack," she said. "But we're also there to help the Afghan people and enable them to reclaim their country. There is absolutely no comparison that's valid between the two."

Riedel, who, is on leave from the The Brookings Institution, where he has consistently written and argued about the close links between the Pakistan intelligence services, the ISI and the Taliban, was circumspect when asked about the recent reports about continuing ISI links and also their assisting the Taliban as report a few days ago in The New York Times.

"I am not going to get into the intelligence questions which have been in every newspaper in the United States in the last several days," he said, in some sense, implying confirmation of these reports.

Riedel said, "This strategy is built upon a very clear understanding of what's going on in the region, but I'm not going to comment on intelligence matters today."

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington, DC