Thursday, October 26, 2006

Insight or propaganda?

Last night's Newsnight piece on the Taliban in Helmand, Afghanistan, was a piece of superb and brave journalism by the war correspondent David Loyn. Loyn risked his life - or at least put a huge degree of trust in the Pashtun honour code - to go behind the lines in Helmand and investigate what is going on. Last month the outgoing British commander Brigadier Ed Butler said that the Taliban had been tactically defeated. Loyn's report suggested otherwise. The Taliban are free-range, well armed (with captured night vision goggles and .50 cal machine guns among other things) and enjoy some support from local people who are aggravated by corruption, which commonly takes the form of illegal roadblocks charging 'tolls'.

Today, various Conservative politicians in Britain are getting hot under the collar about the report. Julian Lewis said it was 'unalloyed Taliban propaganda', while Liam Fox described it as 'obscene'. But the Tories should stop trying to do the government's job for it, and start shouting louder for the reinforcements the British need to send to Afghanistan, if they are to have a hope to achieving what they want to. What the report so clearly showed was that the government is wrong to claim that it is winning in Helmand, and as the opposition the Conservatives should be asking why that is.

What the report did not go into was the Taliban's claim to have outlawed opium production when they were in power. Up to a point Lord Copper. The Taliban earned duty from exports of the drug and did not want over-supply to the value of the commodity and so the income they derived from it. Money, not religion was the motive for the ban, and it would have been good to hear that aired.

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