Dinner Briefing: Threats, response and reconstruction – Afghanistan in 2009

Talk Wednesday 14th January, 2009

In the first of a new strand, this off-the-record background briefing on Afghanistan, will be followed by a 3-course dinner plus wine. Arriving at 7pm, guests will be given a glass of wine as they sit and listen to the discussion. Following this, they will be served dinner and afterwards will get a chance to meet the panellists at their tables while continuing the discussion informally. The event will finish by 10pm.

2009 promises to be a crucial year for the war in Afghanistan. While the latest independent report indicates that the Taliban have significantly increased their political and military control to around 75% of the country, and shows that 2008 has been the deadliest for US troops since the 2001 invasion, President-elect Obama has pledged to make the fight against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda his top priority. He’ll be sending more troops to the region, has proposed an additional $1 billion in non-military assistance each year, and seems committed to preventing corruption.

But will these additional resources and commitment from the US government be enough to reverse this war and beat the Taliban? Is it realistic to think that the corruption so endemic to the country, can ever be significantly reduced or wiped out? How important are Pakistani policies and their alliances to British and US governments to this war? And given that more than two-thirds of Britons think that UK troops should leave Afghanistan within a year, will lack of popular support for this war impact on British government policy out there?

James Appathurai is a spokesperson for NATO

Col Stuart Tootal was a Commander of 3 Para Battle Group in Afghanistan before resigning from the army at the end of 2007 following his promotion to Colonel. He is now pursuing a career in corporate banking security and is also a media defence and security commentator. Col Tootal was selected to command the 3rd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment (3 PARA) in 2005. This included commanding the first UK Battle Group of 1200 soldiers to be sent to Helmand Province in Southern Afghanistan in 2006, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. On returning to the UK, he set up the 3 PARA Afghan Trust charity.

Christina Lamb has been a foreign correspondent for almost 20 years, living in Pakistan, Brazil and South Africa first for the Financial Times then the Sunday Times. Christina is a frequent commentator on Afghanistan and the war on terror on radio and television in Britain, Canada, Austaalia and the US and has given talks to schools, MPs, NATO and the military, and taught literary non-fiction at the Arvon Foundation. Her work inspired the book Zahir of multi-million selling author Paulo Coelho.

Alastair Leithead reported from Afghanistan as the BBC’s Kabul correspondent from 2006 to 2008, and is one of very few journalists to have remained in the region throughout the recent hostilities. He is soon to take up his new post as BBC News’ South Asia correspondent, based in Bangkok. Alastair is now working on his first book, provisionally entitled Three Bloody Summers, a first-hand account of recent events in Helmand province.

David Loyn is the BBC’s International Development Correspondent with extensive experience in Afghanistan. His first book, Frontline was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize in 2006. Butcher and Bolt: Two Hundred Years of Foreign Engagement in Afghanistan is a history of foreign engagement in Afghanistan beginning with the first British mission 200 years ago.