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"Medieval" Afghanistan needs care - UK defence chief
LONDON, June 24 |
LONDON, June 24 (Reuters) - Britain's top military officer described Afghanistan as "medieval" on Tuesday and said it could take decades before the country shows steady development.
Air Chief Marshall Jock Stirrup said it would be 15 years at current growth rates before Afghanistan reached the level of Bangladesh. Civilian reconstruction efforts would have to continue long after military operations.
"This is not something that could be done in one, two or three years because we are talking about a country that is essentially medieval, that has very little in the way of infrastructure, very little in the way of human resource, that has an endemic culture of corruption," Stirrup told journalists.
"This truly is a long-term endeavour. I don't think it is that long-term an endeavour for the military. I think we are talking about some years but we are not talking about decades," said the chief of the defence staff.
"In terms of developing the country from an almost medieval status, that has to be an enterprise of decades."
Stirrup said the major threat in the country was not necessarily the Taliban or al Qaeda, but building up a level of governance that allowed the country to function properly.
Afghanistan has seen almost three decades of virtually uninterrupted turmoil and war, from the Soviet invasion in 1979, through the conflict between warlords, Taliban rule and then the U.S.-led invasion in 2001.
Using the metaphor of a human body, with muscles attached to a skeleton to allow the whole body function, Stirrup described Afghanistan as a feeble patient that needed long-term care.
"We have to recognise that what we have here is scarcely even a skeleton, let alone the musculature that is necessary to move all the limbs of governance," he said.
"We have got to develop those, we have got to grow them over time ... The mission in Afghanistan is fundamentally about governance. Can we help Afghanistan over a period of time, year by year, improve its governance?"
Britain recently bolstered its forces in Afghanistan, sending engineers, pilots and other specialists to boost the overall force to around 8,030, part of a 53,000-strong foreign contingent under NATO command.
The bulk of Britain's troops are based in Helmand, a province in southern Afghanistan that has seen concentrated fighting against Taliban militants. Four British soldiers were killed there last week in a roadside bomb.
Stirrup said he was "disappointed" that more NATO countries were not willing to stump up troops to strengthen the alliance's forces. A German NATO general said on Sunday that up to 6,000 additional troops were urgently needed.
"I am disappointed that, for a whole variety of reasons, that we don't have more troops in the south and east," Stirrup said, without specifying any countries that were to blame.
He said the Taliban had suffered several defeats at the hands of U.S. and British troops, describing the militants as "in a bad way"; but he conceded they were still capable of launching "asymmetrical" attacks such as suicide bombings.
Britain has lost a total of 107 soldiers in Afghanistan, including 10 in the past two weeks, putting the conflict on the front pages of newspapers. (Editing by David Clarke and Ralph Boulton)
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