Kim Howells speaks out -

several years too late.

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Kim Howells is chairman of the intelligence and security committee responsible for overseeing the security services. He was the Secretary of State for Defence for three-and-a-half years until the October government reshuffle. In an interview in the Guardian he says:

"Institutionally, Afghanistan is corrupt from top to bottom. There are few signs that the chaotic hegemony of warlords, gangsters, presidential placemen, incompetent and under-resourced provincial governors and self-serving government ministers has been challenged in any effective way by President Karzai."

"On the contrary, those individuals appear to be thriving, not least because Hamid Karzai has convinced himself that he cannot afford to sack or challenge the strongmen who, through corruption, brutality, power of arms or tribal status are capable of controlling their territories and fiefdoms."

Howells told the Guardian that Karzai had repeatedly put pressure on the Foreign Office not to back the dismissal of corrupt and brutal provincial governors. He said the government had to change its "daft" rhetoric on the war.

"Forget the nonsense about being prepared to fight on the mountains and plains of Afghanistan for 30 years. People will not accept the notion that British families should send their sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters to risk their lives fighting religious fanatics, tribal nationalists, corrupt warlords and heroin traffickers in one of the most godforsaken terrains on the face of the earth. The notion is daft, however much we may try to rationalise it by arguing that it is better to fight al-Qaeda over there than over here."

He said the only hope of peace lay in Nato countries being more willing to fight, especially the Germans, and in persuading Karzai to tackle corruption and start a proper process of reconciliation.

Apart from the last sentence we, and most of the British population, are in complete agreement.

Christina Lamb tells us that:

Violent incidents have gone up from 44 a month in 2003 to 573 this year, and more than 4,500 people have been killed. In June and July the Americans lost more troops in Afghanistan than Iraq. Back in Kabul, the sensation of the Taliban approaching the gates of the city has led to a frenzied fin-de-siècle atmosphere.

Two and a half years, a doubling of troops to more than 8,000, and several million bullets later, British forces may hold five small districts in Helmand but the local governor himself says the Taliban control at least half the province.As for the rest of the country, in all but the north the picture is unrelentingly grim. An aid worker smuggled me security maps compiled by the United Nations (no longer made public because they reveal just how bad things are). These show the relentless sweep from Helmand and the south across the country of pink, which represents “uncontrolled hostile environment” – no-go areas.
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David Miliband on the other hand is quite upbeat:

Our cause is simple: to help Afghanistan make itself safe from the Taliban and, in the process, to make ourselves safer from Al-Qaeda. Some 74% of incidents occurred in just 10% of Afghanistan’s districts, home to only 6% of the population. Nor is Kabul encircled. The Taliban lack the capacity to hold ground.

Now who would you believe? War correspondent Christina Lamb who has reported from Afghanistan for 20 years or David Miliband who has been Foreign Secretary for all of 18 months and has no prior experience in this field?