‘Taliban cannot be defeated militarily’


Melbourne : A top Australian combat soldier in Afghanistan has warned that the Taliban militants cannot be defeated by military means and called for a fundamental change in strategy, a media report said Sunday.

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Brigadier Mark Smethurst says securing Afghanistan could take decades, but success is uncertain without a fundamental change in strategy, The Age reported Sunday.

His critical assessment comes in a report that contrasts sharply with federal government claims of progress in Afghanistan.

While the key role of Australian troops is mentoring local forces, Smethurst says the Afghan army cannot operate independently, despite seven years of training, and the police are even worse.

Smethurst is a highly regarded special forces officer, with service in East Timor, Iraq and Afghanistan in a 28-year career. At present deputy commander of Special Operations Command, he is tipped for a key coalition post in Afghanistan.

In a paper that makes uneasy reading for MPs before this week’s parliamentary debate on Afghanistan, he implies that if we haven’t achieved our primary aim by 2012 — training Afghan troops — we should pull out, the daily said.

“Compared with other counterinsurgency campaigns, the chance of a solution in the short term appears remote,” he says.

The paper called Creating Conditions for the Defeat of the Afghan Taliban: A Strategic Assessment was recently published online by the Australian Defence College.

Smethurst calls for a co-ordinated military and political strategy aimed at providing security, building Afghan forces and creating a functioning Afghan government.

Walking away from Afghanistan risks allowing the country to flourish as a breeding ground and haven for Islamic extremism, he warns.