"Your Lordships may say that this is impractical, but nobody lives up in the mountains on the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan except for a few goats and a handful of people herding them," Baron Gilbert is quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India. "If you told them that some ERRB (Enhanced Radiation/Reduced Blast) warheads were going to be dropped there and that it would be a very unpleasant place to go, they would not go there."
The statement might be disregarded as idle talk of an 85-yer-old former functionary, but several factors prompt to attach a little more importance to it than may come to mind at first glance.
For one, Baron Gilbert, despite being retired from active service, still remains an influential member of the defence and intelligence community in the UK.
But what is more important, the statement reflects the present state of affairs surrounding Afghanistan in view of the expected withdrawal of NATO troops form the country. Britain at the moment has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, while the US keeps a much larger contingent which at the moment numbers around 66,000. The numbers are going to be reduced, but at the moment no one can tell for sure to what extent.
Recently, the US and British media reported that while no final decision has been made, the US top military brass is mulling the idea of keeping around 10,000 troops (the options range from 6,000 to 15,000) after the announced withdrawal. To understand the exact figure, one must ask what the troops are going to do there.
Their mission is definitely not going to be "security and assistance" as it has been over the 11 years of their presence in the occupied country. These goals could not be achieved with the 100 plus thousand, and while the number of foreign troops is reducing and the number of "insider attacks" by Afghan troops against the coalition is increasing, the chances of achieving these goals are coming close to zero. And the Taliban are only too eager to wait till the number of foreign troops gets down to the critical point to launch a decisive offensive.
If that is the most probable prospect, then why should the US (and, probably, its allies) want to leave behind any number of soldiers risking their lives like it happened as far back as 1842 when the whole British contingent in Kabul was slaughtered by Afghans?
The answer is simple. Afghanistan plays a specific role in the US strategic plans of imposing its geopolitical pressure on the whole area embracing the Middle East, Central and South Asia. Therefore, it is crucial for the US to maintain at least four or five military bases on its territory for an unlimited and unspecified period of time. Ten to fifteen thousand troops is just the exact number needed for the bases' maintenance.
But this needs at least relative stability. The present Afghan leadership (or whatever leaders are imposed on Afghanistan after the 2014 troops withdrawal and "general elections") are obviously incapable of guaranteeing it.
This leaves only two options. One is trying to establish some dialogue with the Taliban. But neither side seems eager to do this. And recently one of the most vocal instruments of the US "humanitarian" global policy, the Human Rights Watch, unequivocally stated that it is opposed to such dialogue, urging the US administration not to provide immunity to the Taliban fighters in return for peace talks.
But if the negotiation process looks out of question and the West-sponsored leaders lack the capacity to ensure stability in the country, that leaves open only one option – the tactics of the scorched earth.
0And in this context, Lord Gilbert's suggestion comes in more than handily.