Gates Cautions Brits Against “Defeatism” in Afghanistan

Speaking in reaction to recent comments from two high profile British officials regarding the situation in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates cautioned against having a “defeatist” outlook or “underestimating the opportunities to be successful in the long run.”

He was referring to comments made by departing commander of British forces Brigadier Mark Carleton-Smith, who said upon his departure that a military victory over the Taliban was “neither feasible nor supportable,” and leaked comments from British Ambassador to Afghanistan Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles which came to light last week.

The two British officials, though both pessimistic about the prospect of success in the war torn country, had very different ideas about how to proceed. Brig. Carleton-Smith believed more foreign troops were needed and the best that Afghanistan could hope for was “a degree of normalisation,” whereas Sir Sherard cautioned that more foreign troops would make matters worse and advised the installation of an “acceptable dictator.”

Of course, American policy makers have had a rather public measure of pessimism as well about the situation. Last month, Admiral Michael Mullen declared that he was “not convinced we’re winning it in Afghanistan,” and promised an entirely new strategy. The National Intelligence Estimate on Afghanistan, though classified for the time being, has also reportedly described the situation as “grim.”

But to Secretary Gates, the opportunity lies in “strengthening the Afghan security forces.” Toward that end, the Pentagon is planning to dramatically increase the size of the Afghan army. The problem however, according to Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell is “at a minimum its going to cost $17 billion. That’s a hefty price-tag and someone’s got to pay for it.” Someone in this case meaning “someone else,” as the US is reportedly pressing Japan and NATO allies which have refused to send troops to Afghanistan to send money to contribute financially to the war as a way to “take part in this mission.”

Still, the war has gone on for seven years now, and it seems that the Afghan people are getting fed up with waiting for a promised victory to magically kick in. In fact with the situation on the ground rapidly deteriorating, many Afghans are reportedly looking back a little more fondly on the days of Taliban rule. Many were hopeful when the Taliban was originally ousted, but the ever elusive promise of a “long term” victory appears to be holding less and less appeal in a nation where the average life expectancy is only 44 years.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.