Afghan security forces are likely to prevail against the current Taliban onslaught, forcing the insurgents into a military stalemate, the head of Britain’s military has said.
Gen Sir Nick Carter said the extremists are losing significantly more fighters than Afghan troops as they attempt to seize a major city.
The National also understands that the Afghan government is seeking advisers from private military companies to help train and support its forces.
The possibility of avoiding military defeat to the Taliban will be a significant development for the government, particularly if it holds the besieged Helmand provincial capital of Lashkar Gah.
However, former British military chiefs have told The National that the city is likely to fall in days, leading to a collapse of army morale and capitulation to the Taliban, with Afghanistan once more becoming a “safe haven” for terrorists.
But when General Carter was asked by the BBC if government forces were facing defeat he responded: “There is a real risk that we're giving far too much legitimacy to the Taliban movement.”
He argued that if the Afghan government could “stand on its own two feet” and “create a military stalemate” then the insurgents would negotiate. “It will force the Taliban to recognise that they have to compromise and we will end up with political talks,” he said.
However, he did accept that if the Taliban prevailed Afghanistan could become a “failed state”, but he said: “We have to get behind the current Afghan government and support them in what they are trying to do and if they can achieve a military stalemate, then there will have to be a political compromise.”
The Taliban’s advances in the countryside were not a major concern as the majority of the population lives in the cities. “I'm not surprised that the Taliban have made progress in the rural areas, the question of course is whether they can hold them,” he said.
The Chief of the Defence Staff was also asked if reports that Al Qaeda and other foreign groups fighting alongside the Taliban could once again lead to terrorist attacks in Europe and America.
“I think we all know that when you end up with vacuums like Afghanistan was in security terms before 2001 there is inevitably the risk that you'll end up with these vacuums being filled by terrorists and nefarious elements,” Gen Carter replied.
The officer, who twice served in Afghanistan and who has a strong personal relationship with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said he had been told that despite the Taliban taking over 10 districts of Lashkar Gah, they were suffering “very significant casualties at the moment”.
“I spoke to President Ghani on Sunday evening and he was somewhat reassured that the Afghan military are taking far fewer casualties at the moment,” he said. “It's often much harder to be the attacker than the defender.”
The Afghan people were also uniting in their opposition to having harsh Taliban rule reimposed on them. “If they can come together and demonstrate real unity then there's absolutely every reason to suggest that the Afghan government can prevail,” Gen Carter said.
While security sources have indicated foreign military contractors could be used in Afghanistan it is also hoped that US President Joe Biden will continue to allow the use of US special forces and aircraft to keep the Taliban at bay.