INTERVIEW-West won't win Afghan war says ex-UN envoy Ashdown

Wed Oct 17, 2007 12:43pm EDT


By Darren Ennis

BRUSSELS, Oct 17 (Reuters) - International forces are unlikely to win their battle against the Taliban in Afghanistan, risking a regional conflict that could match the magnitude of previous world wars, a former top U.N. envoy said on Wednesday. Lord Paddy Ashdown -- former United Nations high representative and European Union special representative for Bosnia and Herzegovina -- said failure by the NATO-led force would have far wider repercussions than any losses in Iraq.

He called for the appointment of a high-level coordinator to lead the foreign mission in Afghanistan.

"I think we are losing in Afghanistan now, we have lost I think and success is now unlikely," he told Reuters in an interview.

"I believe losing in Afghanistan is worse than losing in Iraq. It will mean that Pakistan will fall and it will have serious implications internally for the security of our own countries and will instigate a wider Shiite, Sunni regional war on a grand scale."

"Some people refer to the First and Second World Wars as European civil wars and I think a similar regional civil war could be initiated by this (failure) to match this magnitude," Ashdown added.

The number of Taliban suicide attacks in Afghanistan -- more than 100 so far this year -- is set to top last year's record of 123, the United Nations says, and most victims are civilians.

The Taliban have increased the number of suicide attacks after suffering heavy casualties in conventional clashes with foreign forces and the Afghan army, security analysts say.



HIGH-LEVEL COORDINATOR

While Western forces, alongside the Afghan army, have claimed victories against Taliban rebels in the south, many remote areas and some towns remain under rebel control and insurgent attacks have also spread north to regions previously considered safe.

Frustration with the government over the slow pace of development, official corruption and the lack of law and order have all played into rebel hands.

Ashdown, a former British Liberal Party leader, said there was a "desperate need for somebody to coordinate the international efforts" and called for the appointment of someone to lead the foreign mission in Afghanistan.

"Unless somebody has the power genuinely to coordinate and unify the international approach, we will lose and I think that is happening," he said.

"It's not about who does the job, but what is the job and if the international community has the will to put together a post which has the authority, including the Americans, then they must do it now if they are to stand any chance."

But Ashdown, who now heads the Brussels-based EU-Russia Centre think tank, had been tipped in some circles for such a role, but ruled himself out of the job.

"I never talk about approaches, but what I will say is that I have had many high-level jobs and I am not looking for any big jobs at the moment. I am happy doing what I am doing with Russia," he said.