The Great Game Continues

Two more British troops were killed in Afghanistan on Monday as a major offensive in Helmand Province drew to a close.

A bomb killed one soldier from the Light Dragoons while he was on a vehicle patrol in Helmand Province. The second soldier, from 5th Regiment Royal Artillery, died when a bomb exploded while he was on a foot patrol.

A total of 22 British servicemen have been killed so far in July, making it the bloodiest month of the Afghanistan campaign.

However, Brigadier Tim Radford, commander of Task Force Helmand, said: “What we have achieved here is significant and I am absolutely certain that the operation has been a success.”

The operation — one of the biggest since British troops moved into Helmand in 2006 — began on June 19 when 350 soldiers from the Royal Regiment of Scotland, launched a daring air assault on a major Taleban stronghold. The final phase of the offensive, began in the early hours of July 20 with a co-ordinated push by the Royal Regiment of Scotland and the Welsh Guards to clear the last patches of resistance.

Speaking from Helmand via videolink, Brigadier Radford told a briefing at the Ministry of Defence in London that it had been a very hard fight.

“When I have been on the ground, you look into the eyes of some of the soldiers and they have certainly grown up during this period,” he said. “My admiration for the troops on the ground has been quite huge. They have done an exceptional job.”

Nonetheless, the Taliban are still far from defeated and British and American officials are sending out signals that the Coalition might be ready to negotiate with more “moderate” elements of the Afghan resistance.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said opening dialogue could “help stability”.

Calling for a “more coherent effort” to achieve a political settlement, the foreign secretary suggested offering alternative livelehoods to the insurgents.

Milliband’s call came as news emerged of a ceasefire between the Afghan authorities and local Taliban groups in Badghis province, near the northern border with Turkmenistan.

The government in Kabul says it is prepared to strike more local truces in the run-up to the presidential elections in August.

Although such ceasefires might be tactically useful for both sides, they are unlikely to last if they are not underpinned by offers of protection and long-term alternative livelihoods for Afghan resistance fighters.

Coaltion forces have been in Afghanistan for eight years now; during which time hundreds have been killed while many thousands more Afghan civilans have been killed and tens of thousands more made homeless.

So having revived the drugs trade that the Taliban had successfully shut-down, and secured agreement on an oil and natural gas pipeline across the country, which conveniently circumvents Iran, British and American officials are now talking about negotiating with more “moderate”members of the Afghan resistance.

Could it be that the end of the Afghan campaign is in sight?

Having resurrected Afghanistan’s drug trade and layed the foundations for a new oil and gas pipeline, do the Anglo-Americans believe they have have achieved their aims and can now start looking to negotiate with more “moderate” – i.e. more corruptible – members of the Afghan resistance to appoint as quisling leaders?

Time will tell but the ‘Great Game’ continues.