Britain: Next Step in Helmand Operation Is Talks with Local Taliban

Military Touts Southern Helmand "Progress" Despite Rising Toll

by Jason Ditz, July 27, 2009

British officials say that stage one of the massive military offensive in the Helmand River Valley, the largest single ground operation in Afghanistan since the Soviet occupation, is completed and now they are moving on two the next step, courting what it described as “second-tier” Taliban leaders.

The prospect of seeking a rapprochement with lower level Taliban in an attempt to drive a wedge between them and their top leadership is nothing new: indeed US and Afghan officials had been talking openly about it last year. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has also made talks with Taliban a key part of his strategy if reelected. So far, however, those attempts have all met with failure.

But British officials say that the Helmand operation has created another opportunity to try to come to terms with them, and some are talking openly of power-sharing deals which would give them a measure of official local authority in regions where they are already in de facto control.

The Obama Administration’s escalation has hit British forces particularly hard, with 20 soldiers killed this month alone. There is growing concern among US officials that unrest will eventually force Britain to change tactics, which may be the source of this new attempt to calm the Helmand Province, where the British forces are based.

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