"We are closing the circle on the Taleban, we have got the Taleban in a bit of a trap," Nato spokesman Major Quentin Innes told the Reuters news agency. Is history repeating itself? I believe when the British demonstrated similar confidence in the eighteenth century it pre-empted an embarrassing defeat. When one refers to the Taliban in Helmand one refers to anyone against the foreign force there. This can be foreign jihadists trying to get to heaven, Afghan Taliban, paid local fighters, local commanders looking for personal gain or poor farmers who do not want to have their poppy crop destroyed and face starvation. Not sure if that leaves many left in Helmand except those working for the government and Afghan and British forces. The sad thing is that the outcome was predicted and obvious to anyone who knows anything about Afghanistan and even human nature. A year ago I sat, with a political advisor and a UN security man in Kabul, discussing the likely outcome of the British going into Helmand. Most of this consisted of black humour because it was so blindingly obvious. If the British government had thought about it instead of reaction to America’s desire to have British troops go in they would have anticipated the result. Instead John Reid talked of how he would not be surprised if the British did not fire a shot in three years. At the same time the Taliban were talking of how they would do the same to the young British troops as they had done to their grandfathers. We can expect at least two British troops killed a week in Helmand while a record poppy crop is harvested.
I am not saying that an economy reliant on opium is a good thing but that the strategy used to combat it is ridiculous. If you try to take a family's only means of survival away and offer no compensation or alternative then you should not be surprised that they are not too welcoming and perhaps join the only force fighting you. However, if you offer compensation for the loss of the crop and develop an alternative then perhaps the local population may not try and kill you and there would be less reason for locals to join or support the Taliban. Do we really need think tanks to tell us this? Do not expect a great victory this time either.