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West will never beat Taliban, Rudd warned

By Matt Wade Herald Correspondent in Islamabad and agencies

30/01/08 "
SMH" -- - A FORMER head of Pakistan's military intelligence says Australia's troop deployment in Afghanistan is doomed to failure and has urged the Government to withdraw its forces as quickly as possible.

Hamid Gul, the retired general who was the director-general of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate when it supported Afghan militias against the Soviet occupation of their country, believes Western troops will be forced to leave Afghanistan by the end of next year.

"There comes a time in every war when the scales start tilting," Mr Gul said. "I think the foreign presence in Afghanistan is at a tipping point now. Even if they are able to stretch it out, next year will be the last campaign year of the occupying forces. Then they will go - they will have to go."

Mr Gul said it was not "wise" for Australia to maintain its troop commitment. "Of course it's very difficult to say no to America, but [Australia should] find a way out like Japan … and many others."

More than six years after the US-led invasion, the issue of security came to a head this week when the Canadian Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, threatened to pull out Canada's 2500 troops early next year unless NATO sent in more soldiers.

The US said it would press its European NATO allies to send more troops to Afghanistan's violent south, but the Pentagon has said it will not commit any more of its own forces there.

The Taliban were toppled by the invasion in late 2001 but have recently made an explosive comeback, despite the presence of 50,000 foreign troops under the command of NATO and the US military, backed by 120,000 Afghan security forces.

Australia has about 1000 troops stationed mainly in the south, making it the largest non-NATO contributor. The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has pledged to keep Australian troops in Afghanistan.

But Mr Gul says Western forces face a determined opposition that will not give up."As a soldier I can tell you there is no army, no matter how strong, that can prevail against a nation that decides to fight. You will never, never prevail," he said.

Since retirement Mr Gul has been involved with Jamaat-i-Islami, a relatively moderate Islamic political party in Pakistan, and was among a group of retired army officers who last week called on the President, Pervez Musharraf, to stand down.

Mr Gul concedes that a withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US and its allies would probably hand control of much of the country to the Taliban. But he said the security situation in his own country would improve significantly if US forces were to depart Pakistan.

The Afghan Defence Minister, Abdul Rahim Wardak, has said Kabul expects its allies to help expand Afghanistan's security forces. "The only sustainable way to secure this country in an enduring way is to enable the Afghans themselves to be able to defend this country," he said.

Copyright 2008. The Sydney Morning Herald.

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