Friday, November 6, 2009

Christina Lamb on Afghanistan

Christina Lamb is Washington correspondent of the Sunday Times and won this year’s Prix Bayeux Calvados for war reporting for her coverage of Afghanistan. She has twice been named Foreign Correspondent of the Year in the British Press Awards. She is, in short, really good. (As is her most recent book, Small Wars Permitting, a collection of her journalism.)

She writes in the Spectator:
In the late 1980s I lived in Peshawar and travelled with many of those we now consider bad guys, but who were then on the same side against the Soviets. I even spent three weeks going round Kandahar on the backs of motorbikes of the incipient Taleban. These long links enable me to travel to areas few other foreign journalists can go to. But for the last two years, each time I visit Afghanistan, I find I can travel to fewer and fewer places, my Afghan friends insisting it is too dangerous to travel on the roads built with billions of dollars of our taxpayers’ money. Last time I went, in August, I barely ventured outside Kabul. Even in the capital foreign residences are surrounded by ever more concrete blocks.
She says that she used to think the answer was to send more troops, but no longer. She sets out her case at length – it really is worth reading the whole piece – but here is one example of why she has changed her mind:
A recent report from the Institute of War details how British forces took the district of Nad Ali last year, losing a number of soldiers. They then handed control over to the Afghan police, who set about raping young boys. Eventually the people got so fed up that they asked the Taleban to come back to protect them.
She lists some of what she sees as the West’s biggestmistakes since ousting the Taleban eight years ago:
getting distracted by Iraq; giving Karzai too much leeway; supporting warlords; being unable to differentiate tribal infighting and Taleban; bombing wedding parties; believing Pakistan shared our interests; putting the Italians in charge of building a justice system.
That last one is quite amazing, really.

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