Thursday 23 November 2017

Taliban fighters 'must be allowed join army and police'

Ben Farmer in Kabul

Taliban fighters who reconcile with the Afghan government must be allowed to join the police or army, a British general has said.

Major General Richard Barrons backs the move despite concerns that militants might use it as an opportunity to infiltrate the security services.

In two separate incidents last week, a Taliban bomber wearing a military uniform and a suicide vest entered a base in Khost and blew himself up inside the gym, killing eight Americans, thought to be CIA officers, and an Afghan soldier killed a member of the US forces and wounded two Italian soldiers when he opened fire at an army base in western Afghanistan.

In November, a rogue Afghan policeman shot dead five British soldiers while serving alongside them.

But General Barrons, who heads a newly formed Nato unit seeking to reintegrate former insurgents, said he also expected to see Taliban commanders take senior positions within President Hamid Karzai's administration in the future. He is hoping for "substantive delivery" in coaxing fighters to defect by late summer of this year.

He spoke as the coalition prepares to spend millions of euros on jobs and training for Taliban fighters if they agree to lay down their arms. The scheme is designed to complement US President Barack Obama's 30,000-strong troop surge, which begins in earnest in the new year.

General Barrons made his comments before last week's attacks, in an interview at the main coalition staff HQ in Kabul, which he helped to set up after the operation to oust the Taliban in late 2001. Eight years on, coalition commanders have accepted that military might alone will not end the increasingly bloody insurgency. They do, however, believe that the majority of fighters are open to negotiation if they can be given an alternative.

General Barrons said most Taliban fighters were motivated not by entrenched ideology but by lack of money and jobs, local grievances, or a sense of injustice at government corruption.

He said that experience in Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Iraq -- where last year he helped to integrate Sunni militias into the police and army -- suggested that reformed militants should be found a place in the security forces. "I see this as a natural process. I see it as hard because of the bruises that exist right now, but many of the Afghans I have spoken to see this as essential and accept it has to be done."

He said the risk of Taliban infiltration into the Afghan forces would reduce with better intelligence and the use of biometric checks on new recruits, but it was "very hard to make it go away completely".

General Barrons, an Oxford graduate who joined the British army in 1977, said he also expected Taliban to join the government representing parts of the Pashtun ethnic group, from which most fighters were drawn. Any such moves, though, had to be led by the Afghan authorities.

"My sense is that this is inevitable, that there has to be a process of political assim- ilation or reconciliation or accommodation," he said. "If there is a strong, conservative Pashtun constituency in this country, then it ultimately has to find an orthodox political expression and the Afghans will work out how to do that."

Despite a year of the most intense fighting since 2001, General Barrons said intelligence reports suggested that many lower level Taliban commanders were considering how to give up their fight. "You can see as you look around the country lots of little signs at local level," he said.

© Telegraph

Sunday Independent

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