Afghan insurgents 'on brink of defeat'
Afghan insurgents 'on brink of defeat'Last Updated: 8:09PM BST 02/06/2008
Missions by special forces and air strikes by unmanned drones have "decapitated" the Taliban and brought the war in Afghanistan to a "tipping point", the commander of British forces has said.--CHRISTOPHER PLEDGER
The new "precise, surgical" tactics have killed scores of insurgent leaders and made it extremely difficult for Pakistan-based Taliban leaders to prosecute the campaign, according to Brig Mark Carleton-Smith.
In the past two years an estimated 7,000 Taliban have been killed, the majority in southern and eastern Afghanistan. But it is the "very effective targeted decapitation operations" that have removed "several echelons of commanders".
This in turn has left the insurgents on the brink of defeat, the head of Task Force Helmand said.
"The Taliban are much weaker," he said from 16 Air Assault Brigade headquarters in Lashkar Gah.
"The tide is clearly ebbing not flowing for them. Their chain of command is disrupted and they are short of weapons and ammunition."
Last year's killing of Mullah Dadullah, the Taliban chief, most likely by the Special Boat Service, was "a seminal moment in dislocating" their operation in southern Afghanistan, said Brig Carleton-Smith, 44, who has extensive operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq and has commanded elite Army troops.
"We have seen increasing fissures of stress through the whole organisation that has led to internecine and fratricidal strife between competing groups."
Taliban fighters are apparently becoming increasingly unpopular in Helmand, where they are reliant on the local population for food and water.
They have also been subjected to strikes by the RAF's American-made Reaper unmanned aerial vehicle and the guided Royal Artillery missile system, which have both proved a major battlefield success.
"I can therefore judge the Taliban insurgency a failure at the moment," said Brig Carleton-Smith. "We have reached the tipping point."
The task is now to regenerate the economy to win over the civilian population of Helmand, the base for 8,000 British soldiers.
Lashkar Gah, the provincial capital, appears to be a town on the cusp of an economic boom if security remains stable.
A new airport will be ready by the end of this year and a packaging factory by the end of next year.
This could enable the soil-rich "fruit basket of Afghanistan" to export its food.
Alternative crops, such as wheat or rape, could prove a greater attraction than Helmand's massive opium trade, especially as international prices continue to rise.
Much of the Taliban operation is run by Mullah Omar and to a lesser extent al-Qa'eda from their headquarters in Quetta, across the border in Pakistan.
The ability of what is known as the Quetta Shura leadership had been "hugely reduced" and its influence "increasingly marginalised", the brigadier said. Michael Ryder, the senior Foreign Office official in Helmand, agreed that intelligence assessments suggested that the Taliban had become "fractured and fragmented".
"There's a lot of suspicion from southern Taliban commanders of the agenda of Quetta Shura," he said, with the leaders trying to draw in an estimated £20 million a year from the opium trade.
The number of Afghans involved in the insurgency has also fallen, with increasing numbers of Pakistanis, Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs found dead on the battlefield.
However, with the shortage of helicopters still a problem, most movement is by road and Brig Carleton-Smith warned that British forces must prepare for an increasingly Iraq-style insurgency as the Taliban modified its tactics from pitched battles to ambushes and roadside bombs.
Damian J. Anderson
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