The Nato occupation of Afghanistan is in deep trouble with the Western military alliance facing defeat unless it sends thousands more troops, tanks and warplanes to crush the resistance.
That was the message from US foreign secretary Robert Gates to his allies in the “war on terror” during a meeting of Nato ministers held at a military base outside Edinburgh on Friday of last week.
The recognition that “all is not well” in a war that was supposed to have been won five years ago underlies a growing panic among US leaders that, like Iraq, the occupation of Afghanistan is beginning to unravel.
On Thursday of last week anti-war activists held an improvised protest in front of the upmarket Edinburgh Caledonian Hilton, where delegates to the Nato meeting were staying.
Jenny, a student at Edinburgh university, told Socialist Worker, “Three of us who looked ‘respectable’ infiltrated the hotel. One of us got past the security guarding the delegates and draped a banner saying ‘Nato complicit in torture’ over the Christmas tree.”
Anti-war activists followed the Nato ministers to their meeting at the military base the next day.
Gates unveiled his “integrated plan” to the ministers as part of three reviews designed to address the military, political and economic failure in Afghanistan.
At the heart of this new strategy are plans to appoint a “super envoy” to the country who would give the occupation “greater strategic coherence”.
The envoy would effectively be a colonial overseer that would sideline the government of Afghan president Hamid Karzai.
The US wants Karzai to launch a massive programme to eradicate the poppy trade, which it claims is funding the insurgency.
But the Afghan government fears any such move would destroy its remaining credibility and force desperate farmers into the hands of the resistance.
The production of poppies – which are processed into heroin – has grown massively following the ousting of the Taliban regime in 2001. The harvest is an important cash crop for poor Afghan farmers.
Nato and the US are suggesting that billions of dollars be pumped into the economy in an attempt to boost the popularity of the occupation.
A similar plan in 2001 resulted in US and other multinationals pocketing the lion’s share of reconstruction contracts with little or nothing being delivered on the ground.
The new financial plan – the so-called “soft power” strategy – would see resources flow into areas controlled by drug barons and warlords to buy their loyalty.
The third part of the plan would be an Iraq-style “surge” of troops. The US wants Nato countries to send thousands of more troops to smash any resistance.
But it admits that the US military is already overstretched in Iraq, so these extra troops must come from other Nato countries.
The US recently made urgent pleas for 3,500 extra military trainers, 20 helicopters and three infantry battalions – but could only rustle up two extra helicopters from Poland.
Meanwhile growing opposition to the occupation has made it difficult for France, Germany, Italy and Spain – all of which have non-combat troops in Afghanistan – to lift restrictions on their soldiers being deployed into war zones.
Gates was left to castigate fellow Nato countries for their “lack of commitment” to the occupation.
The deepening malaise of Afghanistan is underlined by the growing year-on-year casualties among Nato troops, especially Britain and Canada.
There are deep divisions in the alliance over attempts to negotiate with sections of the insurgency. This strategy, championed by Gordon Brown, has proved very unpopular with the US military.
Last year the British military abandoned the town of Musa Qala to the Taliban. The British recognised that despite years of fighting, they were unable to hold the strategic town in the south.
The US military was furious at the deal and last week Nato troops marched back in – only for the Afghan resistance to melt away into the hills.
But Brown is insisting that the occupation forces should follow the US example in the restive Iraqi province of al-Anbar and conclude local peace deals with sections of the resistance.
The new strategy for Afghanistan underlies deep divisions among Nato powers and a growing pessimism over the fate of the occupation.
Additional reporting by Jamie Allinson