Military action won't work in Afghanistan or other war zones, says UK armed forces chief

POLITICAL rather than military strategies are the only solutions to the turmoil in Afghanistan and other war-torn countries, the head of Britain's armed forces has said.

Air Chief Marshall Sir Jock Stirrup, the Chief of Defence Staff, said bringing Afghanistan into "its rightful place" in the 21st century, will be an "enormous project" that will engage the international community for decades.

His remarks came as tensions rose within NATO over why only a handful of members were carrying the biggest burdens in Afghanistan.

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Sir Jock also said there may well be a need to engage with figures who had once been involved with the Taleban.

He said: "There is a common misperception that the issues in Afghanistan, and indeed elsewhere around the world, can be dealt with by military means.

"That's a false perception. The military is a key, an essential element in dealing with those problems, but by and large these problems can only be resolved politically."

Earlier, Lord Ashdown, the former UN envoy, said he believed NATO was losing in Afghanistan. The consequences would be even worse than losing in Iraq, he warned, pointing to the potential regional war between different strands of Islam.

"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."

Yesterday, Gordon Brown renewed his call for other NATO allies to pull their weight in Afghanistan.

After talks at Number 10 with Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, the Prime Minister said greater "burden sharing" had to be part of the future strategy for the war-torn country.

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While the UK, US, Canada and the Netherlands have taken the lion's share of military operations, other NATO allies have been less keen to contribute to the required 40,000-strong force. The mounting death toll, particularly in heavy fighting in the Helmand province, has made Afghanistan a volatile political issue in some countries. Germany, Italy, France and Spain have all refused to send troops to either fight or be based in the most dangerous areas.

The issue dominated a two-day summit of NATO defence ministers at Noordwijk, in the Netherlands.

At a Downing Street press conference, Mr Karzai pledged more Afghan troops to fight the Taleban, adding: "Burden sharing is necessary if we in the international community are to succeed against terror."

And Mr Brown reiterated his plea to other NATO partners, adding: "We are all determined that Afghanistan should never become a failed state again, and to support the democracy that's been created in that country."

He warned that "Afghanistan is the front line against the Taleban" and that NATO could not allow the Taleban to be in control of such an important country.

Meanwhile, the UK and US strategy of eradicating Afghan poppy crops, the biggest source of heroin in the world, was dealt a major blow.

The European Parliament ruled strongly in favour of allowing the licensing of the poppy trade for legitimate medicines. The poppy crop, which helps fuel the Taleban insurgency, should be used to make painkillers, it said.

The EU assembly voted to ask the 27-nation bloc's member states to look at whether pilot projects could be set up to turn the illicit drug into analgesics.

• Dutch troops backed by Afghan and British forces yesterday launched a major offensive against the Taleban in the southern Afghan province of Uruzgan.