Examination of Witnesses (Questions 115-127)
May I welcome the public back to this session of the Foreign Affairs
Committee and our inquiry into Afghanistan? You might well have
been entitled to expect a video-link to Washington at present,
but technical gremlins have intervened and we only have an audio-link.
So I will be grateful if people try to avoid rustling papers and
things like that, while we do our best to deal with the audio-link
We have two witnesses in Washington at the moment,
Gilles Dorronsoro, who is a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment
Foundation as an expert in Afghanistan and South Asia, and Gerard
Russell, who is a fellow at the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy
in Harvard University.
May I give a warm welcome to both of you?
Do you have an opening statement or anything similar that you
would like to make? Or shall we go straight into questions?
I am happy to go straight to the questions.
I am happy, Mr Chairman, going straight to questions, having submitted
a written statement earlier.
Okay. I read that with interest, Gerard.
Would you like to comment on what impact you
feel the surge has had on the security situation across Afghanistan
and on what its longer-term effects are likely to be?
I would say that altogether the surge has had two different effects.
The first effect is in the south, in Helmand and Kandahar, where
most of the troops have been directed. The further short-term
effect has been more violence, with a lot of casualties on both
sides. The Taliban has taken a more careful approach in some places,
but they are not done; they are still there.
In the other part of the country, what is clear
is that the Taliban have the momentumespecially in the
east and north. In the last year, the last six months, they have
made a lot of progress. So, altogether the surge is not working
the way that it was meant to. There is no change in the overall
balance of power and the Taliban are still making problems.
Chair: Thank you.
Let me just add to Gilles's statement a couple of other thoughts.
First, it is difficult to get a clear picture of the military
situation. There are so many conflicting reports. However, it
is easy to see, over the course of years, certain trends. What
those trends highlight is that no matter what efforts are made
on the military front, the political and law enforcement side
of the equation is more important in terms of getting communities
to side with the Government.
Earlier this morning, I was hearing from Michael
Waltz, who was the UN's commander in the field in Khost province.
He was relaying the comments made to him by an elder in the Mangal
tribe, down in that area, who said basically, "You can give
us all the aid you want to build the schools, as many as you wish,
and we welcome that, but if somebody comes and puts a knife to
my throat in the night, what am I supposed to do?" That isn't
actually something that a military operation can easily address.
It is an issue of getting communities to stand together against
the Taliban and the Haqqani network. In that particular respect,
I'm afraid, I don't yet see great progress being made.
My second point would be that as a shaping operation
that can enable talks to happen, the surge could be extremely
effective, provided that is the strategy that is followed.
Right. Well, we are informed that it is the strategy that's being
followed. The number of insurgents killed is often used as some
sort of measure of success. Do you have any views on this? Is
that a reasonable way to look at the situation?
I would say that that is not a reasonable way of looking at the
situation. As far as we knowbut I'm not even aware of very
good information on thatthousands of Taliban have been
killed since the beginning of the surge. The political impact
is difficult to appreciate. Most probably, all the older generation
of the Taliban have been killed, and you have now new militants
who are more radical, probably, and less willing to negotiate
with the coalition. I would say, no, it's not a reasonable way
of looking at the situation, because more violencethe body
countmeans that Afghan society will be more polarised.
It's going to be us against them. In this case, I don't see how
the foreign troops would get any kind of support from the Afghan
population. That's exactly what we are seeing now in Kandahar,
where they are not able to find local notables, local tribal leaders,
local people to work with.
could we ask you in your answers to get a bit nearer the microphone?
Gerard is coming over very clearly, but we suspect that you're
a bit further away from the microphone.
Baron: Hello there. Thanks for joining us. Can
I ask a question? Most people I ask this question seem to agree
with the premise of it, but struggle with the answer. History
suggests that for a successful counter-insurgency campaign, you
need various preconditions such as control of the border, good
troop density levels, credible Government and the support of a
majority of the population. To many, not one of those conditions
exists in Afghanistan. What makes you thinkif you do think
thisthat we are going to have any measure of success in
Well, I would ask Gilles to speak first, actually, because I think
his view is very clear on this.
I think it's a very good point. It's a very good series of questions,
actually. South of the border, the border is out of control. The
Taliban have a clear amount of support inside the Pakistani Government,
so Pakistan is a sanctuary. In Kandahar, the Taliban are fighting
two hours by car from their sanctuary. So the border is out of
The second point is the level of troops. There
are comparatively a lot of foreign troops in two or three provinces
and the south, possibly, but you have to see that, for example,
for all the north you have little more than 10,000 troops, and
it's not exactly a secret that German troops are not verybasically,
this country is open to the Taliban insurgency in the north, because
there are not enough foreign troops and it's not possible to send
The third point is about the Government. We
all know about Karzai's Government. It's going to be extremely
difficult to drill an Afghan national army and, of course, an
Afghan national police in the next three or four years. I do not
trust the quantitative approach: "We have more policemen
or soldiers, so it's good". What we have to look at is their
level of training, their competence. Here we have a problem. I
don't think we're going to have an Afghan national army able to
stop the Taliban or contain the Taliban in two years.
The last thing is the population's support.
The Taliban have a kind of support in a lot of places. The fact
that the Afghan Government is now absent from lots of provinces,
makes the Taliban more and more a kind of parallel Government,
and because they are involved with some kind of order they have
some kind of popular support. So, for all these reasons, I think
that the situation
Gilles makes a lot of very good points. It is difficult for me
to comment on military strategy, but I know that there has been
some concern that to have secured the borders would have been
a more effective approach than to have got into the population
centres. I am not a military expert and I wouldn't pretend to
be, but it is certainly true that that question is a very good
I would, in general, make a comment about the
lists. Of course, there is an excellent list of points and of
questions that should be asked about the counter-insurgency campaign.
I suppose that the other question to ask is, "Can a foreign
force ever really hope to be effective in countering an Afghan
insurgency?" One of the things that concerns me, looking
back on the campaign to date, is whether we were right to think
that it was ever going to work to put foreign troops into Afghan
population centrestowns and villagesand keep them
secure. It often seems to have been the stimulus for confrontation
rather than the resolution of it, and for me that points to a
much greater potential that existed for foreign forces in Afghanistan
to have been all along in a position where they acted as a weapon
of last resort, rather than being the front line of engagement
with the Taliban.
Gapes: Can I ask you about the long-term commitment
of the coalition to troops remaining in Afghanistan? A number
of countries have already withdrawn or indicated that they intend
to withdraw, and we know that President Obama made a political
commitment to begin a reduction in US troops from July 2011. What's
the attitude of the US military to that commitment and, regarding
the long term, what's the attitude to whether there will be a
deadline, like the British Prime Minister has signalled, of a
complete end to a combat role by 2015? Is there an American view
forming about something similar and, if so, what is it?
In the readings that I've made, there isn't very much said directly
by the military about the issue of the July 2011 date, but from
those who have served in the military and are close to the American
military, you see a great deal of criticism, and there is a feeling
from some who have been in Afghanistan that it leads to an inevitable
ebbing of American credibility in the country.
The other side of the picture is, of course,
that with such a large presence in the country, inevitably the
political cost increases all the time, and arguably the levels
of casualties and expense are simply unsustainable and therefore
a reduction has to come at some point. But in answer to your direct
question about the American military's attitude, my guess is that
they are unhappy, and I think that they would be similarly unhappy
with any end stage that would be set, even if it were 2015. My
instinct, to be honest, when reading Bob Woodward's book, Obama's
Wars, was that, having received an increase in troops in Afghanistan,
there would perhaps be a feeling in some parts of the military
that it would be really very hard for the civilian Government
now to reduce forces even in 2011, by any significant degree.
I think that you have two different dynamics. The first is that
the Europeans must be out of Afghanistan by 2014.
The second dynamic is that the US military is
always asking for more resources. Since 2002, you have a surge
every year in Afghanistan. Every year, you have more troops and
more money, and the result is not that great. What you are trying
to do in a way is trying to stop the unending increase in resources.
I don't think it's going to work, because the deadline has been
pushed back. For example, when I came to Washington two years
ago, the deadline was 18 months. In 18 months, we needed to see
something on the ground. If not, we would have to withdraw. Then
the deadline was 2011. It's no longer 2011, in fact; it's going
to be 2014. I think there is an increased dynamic inside the military.
It's never to say, "Okay, we have to negotiate". It's
always to ask for more resources. Obama doesn't seem to be able
to stop these demands. I think with the result of the latest election
in the House especially, it will be more and more difficult to
stop any increase. What we could very well have next year is demands
for more troops in Afghanistan to compensate for the withdrawal
of the Europeans and, very likely, the degradation of the security
in the north and east of Afghanistan.
Baron: May I turn us briefly to the 2015 deadline?
A recent US Government inspection found that something like a
quarter of Afghan soldiers could not work unsupervised. Only about
3% come from the predominantly Pashtun south. Some would suggest
the Afghan police are corrupt and ineffective, and we know the
attrition rates are high. So say the sceptics. How optimistic
are you that the 2015 deadline is realistic, and what level of
security do you think the Afghan forces will be able to provide?
There is a 2015 deadline and there's a 2014 deadline, which is
even more ambitious and which is President Karzai's. You have
focused on one point that I think is of critical importance, which
is the number of Pashtuns who are in the Afghan security forces.
Although Pashtuns from the east and the north can to some extent
fulfil a role, it's very hard for those who don't speak Pashto
to do the job that particularly the police are meant to do, which
is to integrate themselves with the community and establish co-operative
mechanisms with the community. That I would highlight as a serious
problem. I'm glad that the UK and the US have begun to address
it by this issue of community security. Whatever issues it brings
with itit brings many risks and dangersit's the
only way of getting Pashtuns to serve, given that the police are
widely seen as a Tajik-dominated service.
You're absolutely right to highlight the risks
and threats. I will only say that on the optimistic sideit
is important, given the amount of pessimism there is, to emphasise
the optimistic sidewhen Najibullah was left on his own
by the Soviet forces and they withdrew, giving him money and weapons
but very little in the way of soldiers on the ground, many people
predicted that he would fall within weeks or months, yet he survived
for three years with not a terribly good security force, although
perhaps it was a little better than it is now, and there was a
lot of pessimism about his prospects. That helps to emphasise
that this may need to be an issue not of military force as conventionally
understood but of psychological or moral force. The question is
really whether the Afghan Government can command the loyalty of
their subjects, rather than necessarily a question of how good
their soldiers are.
Yes, I totally agree with what Gerard said. If you think about
the Afghan national army as a way to contain the Taliban, it's
not going to workfirst, because the Taliban are already
penetrating the Afghan national army and the Afghan national police.
What we have seen in a district north of Ghazni recentlylast
week, I thinkis that the whole district went to the Taliban,
joined up to the Taliban. That kind of thing can happen again
and again in the next two years. So the ANA and the Afghan police
are not going to stop the Taliban. They could be part of a political
process. They could be part of negotiations. They could stabilise
the situation after the political lead, but right now, what we
are seeing in Ghazni and what we saw in Laghman province last
summer, for example, is that it is clear that the Afghan national
army does not have the autonomy to operate alone. Secondly, the
ethnic composition of the army is a real, serious problem. I don't
see how you can train officers in two or three years, considering
that the overall state structure is truly disappearing in a lot
of places in Afghanistan. That is the problem. How can you build
an army without a state?
Stewart: Gilles, following on from your conversation
about the state, what is the state theory of the coalition? Is
it trying to create a centralised state, a decentralised state?
How does it think that Afghanistan runs? It keeps saying that
we need governance, but what is this governance?
Actually, I don't think there is a theory. I think that there
are a lot of local initiatives. Altogether, that doesn't make
sense for me. You also suspect that for efficiency's sake you
have to deal locally, so you don't deal with the governor if the
governor is not good. You go through the provincial reconstruction
teamthe PRT. Most of the work of the coalition is done
in parallel with the Afghan state. In a lot of cases, that is
destroying the credibility of the Afghan state. That is the first
dynamic. That is true also for the NGOs to a certain extent.
The second dynamic is that we want to enforce
regulation at the top. We want to fight corruption at the top.
Of course, it is not working. Well, it is working in some specific
cases, such as the Ministry of Mines, for example, where it seems
that something is moving. But overall, it is not possible, because
it is going straight to Karzai and to people who are extremely
close to Karzai. Some of those are working for the CIA, which
creates a problem every time we try to fight corruption. There
is a temptation to deal locally with whoever is in control. There
is the temptation to put pressure on Karzai at the top, but all
that doesn't make for an overall coherent policy.
Thank you for the question, Rory. I agree with Gilles about the
way that things have worked in practice. If I may, I will give
two slightly separate responses to your question. First, in respect
of development and national strategy towards Afghanistan, you
rightly identify that the emphasis has, in theory, been on a top-down
model of governance. In particular, whenever it has been proposed,
for example, to enlist Afghans in a local fighting force in a
community initiative of any kind, there has always been the desire
to link that into the Ministry of Interior, which to some extent
defeats the purpose. One of the problems in the south and east
of Afghanistan is that the Ministry of Interior has lacked credibility
and been seen as a body that was ill disposed towards Pashtuns.
To some extent the top-down approach is the
result of theory and empirical evidence, I suppose from the Balkans.
To another extent, I'm afraid, it's a failing of the international
community that it tends to engage most easily with those who speak
its language, particularly those who speak English, those who
are educated, and those who live in the capitals. In the case
of Afghanistan and Iraq, it is very often those who have come
to the country from America, who are almost by definition ill-suited
to lead a country in a state of conflict, because they lack credibility
on the street, because they don't speak the language of the ordinary
person, and because they have been insulated from the sufferings
of their country over the last 10 or 20 years. When I look sometimes
at the structures in Kabul that are in charge of local government,
I remember what Wilfred Thesiger said in the 1950s about those
who were sent from Baghdad to govern Maysanof course, a
place that you know well, Rory. He said that such people never
had a deep-seated investment in the places to which they were
sent, and therefore never troubled to really understand local
issues or to resolve things in a way that would deliver long-term
stability. It would have been much better from the beginning if
we had tried to find solutions at a local level. We have done
so, as Gilles describes, in a somewhat haphazard way and without
a proper strategy.
The second point that I wanted to make was allied
to that. Besides the issue of the Kabul-down approach, there has
also been the PRT-up approach. Somewhat disjointed, partly because
each country, with its own province to look after, has adopted
a different approach.
Roy: Gentlemen, as the years go by, what level
of support for reconciliation is there from the American people,
the US Administration and the US military?
I'll go first, and Gilles can come in just a second. I feel that
there is some confusion over the word "reconciliation",
which is used in two different senses.
One is to describe the possibility of proper
negotiations with the Taliban. I shall give an example of this.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) successfully
mediated with the Taliban to produce the piece of paper with Mullah
Omar's signature on it; that is used for giving polio vaccinations
in places like Laghman, and has given to this day protection from
the Taliban. That is one sense of reconciliation. It means something
of that kind; a negotiation with Mullah Omar, with the Quetta
Shura. In another sense, it is used to mean persuading Taliban
These two exercises are totally different in
kind, even if they may have some things in common, just as persuading
Soviets to defect in the old days of the Cold War was not the
same as negotiating with the Soviet Government. I would wish to
distinguish between the two, and I am afraid at this stagewell,
there has been progress towards an understanding of the importance
of both of those things, but the idea of persuading individuals
to change sides is much more popular.
Well, I totally agree with what Gerard said. First, reconciliation
in the sense that you are going to ask Taliban to defect to Karzai's
side is not working. Actually it is not working; it never worked.
What you have is very small groups or some individuals joining
the Government, but it has no strategic impact. The more you're
fighting, the more you're killing people, the less you will see
people defecting, because it is the mechanism of polarisation.
It is absolutely classical in Afghan society, so this policy is
The second policy, which is political talk with
the Taliban leadership, never even started. It is clear that it
is not supported by the US military, and not even by the State
Department, so it's a dead end. So in the next few months, you
are going to see probably some move towards tribal militias, but
it's not going to work. You're going to have a small-scale defection
here and there, and no political talks.
Roy: Is there a difference in thinking on the willingness
to accept reconciliation between the Administration and the US
In the sense of accepting the idea of negotiating?
Mr Roy: Yes.
It is quite hard to see the exact dividing line. I am not sure,
but it's a division between military and civilians. There are
plenty of people, including former senior people in the US military,
who see the importance ultimately of negotiations. I do not know
whether Gilles and I agree about this. I don't necessarily say
that negotiations are a thing that will work today, but I wish
that there was some evidence that genuine effort was going to
go into creating an atmosphere that would permit talks to happen
at some stage in the next year or two. So, I don't say that America
should declare immediately its intention of negotiating, given
that the Taliban would not necessarily accept such an offer. I
think that the resistance, fundamentally, is an issue of public
opinion, and that is where it has to be addressed.
What I am seeing right now is that the strategy is, mostly, a
military one. There is no real political sideno one is
going to negotiate with the Taliban, let's say until at least
next year, the end of next year. Negotiation doesn't make sense
What the US military and, probably, the US Administration
want is to put military pressure on the Taliban. But what is probably
going to happen is that next year the Taliban will be stronger
than this yeareverything points in that direction. So,
it will be more difficult to negotiate next year than this year.
That is why I am not terribly optimistic about negotiation, even
in one or two years.
Ainsworth: You are pretty pessimistic about the
ability to align maybe what has been UK policy for some time nowthat
is, that military effort has to be combined with a political solution
and reconciliation. To what degree do you think that we are going
to be able to exercise influence over the United States, or are
you totally pessimistic about our ability to shift American policy
in this regard?
It's Gerard speaking, if you can't tell from the accentsI
hope, by the way, that you admire this example of Anglo-French
Chair: We do. And
we are getting the hang of the accents.
Excellent. I am glad to hear it.
I think there has been progress and some of
that is due to Britain. You heard today from Sherard Cowper-Coles,
who did a great deal to push this agenda forward with, I think,
some success. It is a big leap for a Democrat President to make,
and it carries a lot of risk. That is why I say that public opinion
is very important. There are a lot of political bear traps in
the reconciliation process and, particularly, in public declarations
of a desire for negotiations. I don't necessarily say that that
has to happen. I wish there were more evidence of a low-level
practical approach, such as that adopted in Northern Ireland,
where there was at least a link between the British Government
and the IRA for many years, even though it was kept secret. As
to whether that would happen, I think it is possible, because
I think there is more pragmatism in the Administration than necessarily
comes through in public declarations, but very difficult. It requires
continued argument from commentators and from those countries
and Governments that see the need for it.
Gilles is right to point out the difficulties.
Equally, of course, peace processes in the past, including in
Northern Ireland, were regarded as being unlikely to succeed,
and yet people tried them and, eventually, they got somewhere.
I think that there are some grounds for optimism. In the regional
picture, both China and Iran will have a strong interest in stability
in Afghanistan. It might not look like stability of the kind that
we originally imagined, but they do need to protect their investments,
and they have opportunities in Afghanistanparticularly,
of course, mineral deposits, but also as a transit route for supplies
of various kinds, not just natural gas. For that reason, I am
a little more optimistic than Gilles. Either through a formal
process of talks with the Taliban or through a de facto
armistice on the ground, perhaps, if we are clever enough, a form
of peaceful co-existence can be engendered. I haven't given up
A way to answer the question is to notice that Afghanistan was
totally out of the agenda at the last election, so Obama doesn't
feel a lot of pressure from the Democratic left to make a deal
in Afghanistan. On the contrary, he doesn't want to look weak
on foreign policythat's the usual problem for Democratic
Presidentsand the House, of course, is going to put on
pressure for a more military approach to the Afghan conundrum.
So Obama, I think, is not going to take risks on Afghanistan,
because there is no pressure from public opinion to do something
to get out of Afghanistan, really. My feelingthe presidential
election is in 2012is that Obama is not going to do anything
very strong or dramatic until 2012. After that, we'll see if Obama
is re-elected or not, but for this mandate, I think it's basically
not very likely you will see something.
Rosindell: Can I ask you to comment on how you
see the role of Pakistan in all this, and how that impacts on
the situation in Afghanistan, particularly with regard to US policy
and their approach to Pakistan? Do you think Pakistan is a country
we can rely on?
This is Gilles speaking, but I think you understand that. I don't
think there is a US policy towards Pakistan, or I don't understand
what it is. You have a clear US policy towards India. We have
seen that in the last few days. Towards Pakistan, it's a mix of
different things that lack intellectual coherence, and that is
producing very contrary results.
Concretely, when it was time to put hard pressure
on Pakistan between 2001 and 2004-05, when the Taliban were still
very weak, the White House did not put any kind of serious pressure
on Pakistan. Now the situation is such that even if Islamabad
and the military wanted to break the Taliban and secure the border,
it would not be possible. It's now that the White House is putting
some kind of pressure on Pakistan. Even this pressure is half-hearted,
so you have the worst results. First, the Pakistani establishment
doesn't trust Washington, because it is obvious that Washington's
long-term interests are towards India; Obama's last trip to India
is very clear about that. So there is no trust. Secondly, for
example, the drone attacks on the border are resented by a large
part of the population. It's not going to work long-term to secure
US interests. It's a kind of mixed bag of things that could work
but are done half-heartedly.
The result of that is that the Pakistani military
support the Taliban and will continue to support the Taliban to
the end. Just from that, you're sure that the Taliban will not
lose the war in Afghanistan, because they have a sanctuary. Altogether,
I think people in Washington should reconsider their whole strategy
towards Pakistan. It doesn't make sense the way it's done right
I must give a very brief response to your interesting question,
and then I fear I have to leave, but Gilles will be able to stay
a little longer. The Pakistani position is conditioned by many
factors, some of which are outside our control. The relationship
with President Karzai among some in the Pakistani establishment
remains difficult. I think ultimately, they just don't believe
that the current Government in Kabul is well disposed to Pakistan
or will survive very long after a US draw-down. There's no doubt
that the news and the prospect of a US draw-down is going to influence
However, I am more optimistic than Gilles on
one point. I think he disagrees with me on this, but I don't see
that Pakistan will necessarily be interested in pushing for a
Taliban victory that would include the fall of Kabul and the north.
I think it improbable that they would push for that if they felt
that it would ultimately destabilise their investments and China's
investments in southern Afghanistan. China has invested $4 billion
in the Aynak copper mine, which is vitally important for China's
growth, and China is Pakistan's most important partner. It is
beyond the US, in terms of importance, simply because it is there
on Pakistan's borders and it is their most reliable ally. So,
in that sense, I have some optimism that although bits of the
Pakistani establishment certainly support the insurgency, none
the less, the overall national interest will point to some kind
of compromise in the end, and will not drive them to seek the
fall of the entire country, as the Taliban did in the '90s.
we have just one more question left. It will only take a couple
of minutes. Are you able to stay for another couple of minutes?
I can stay for just two more minutes.
John Stanley: You said right at the beginning that
the American military did not like deadlines being put up by which
time they had to withdraw. I would suggest that the American military
are perhaps even more concerned about not being left as the only
fighting force in a particular location. If that is not a particular
concern to the American military, I think that it is a deep concern
to the American politicians. We see now that the Canadians,
the Dutch, the Australians, the Britishall those countrieshave
set dates for coming out of combat operations, or there is a serious
debate as to how long they should stay in Afghanistan. Do you
see the American civilian political leadership being prepared
to stay on in Afghanistan beyond, say, 2015, or do you think that
they will actually end up coming in line pretty well with the
British Government's policy of coming out of combat operations
It is a very difficult question to judge. I think that either
scenario is possible[Interruption.]
Chair: Are you
there? Okay. Thank you very much, colleagues. We meet again tomorrow
at 2 o'clock. Meeting over.