By Richard M Bennett The current military situation on the ground in Afghanistan is at best a highly unsatisfactory stalemate, at worst the allied forces are actually losing the initiative. If that were allowed to continue then the Western democracies face being decisively defeated, politically if not militarily, by the Taliban. There has always been the potential of a political backlash against years of conflict bringing increasing numbers of casualties, but with little sign of a clear victory for all the sacrifices being made. This fear must now haunt the White House in the United States and Britain's Downing Street. When the recent crop of moralizing Western leaders once again apparently based foreign policy on outmoded and deeply flawed beliefs - particularly when combating the threat of religious extremists whose beliefs were still based in a medieval world - disaster was assured. Further complicating the allied response to Islamic extremism is the growing belief among many seasoned observers that the main Western intelligence services have been seriously degraded, despite a vast increase in budgets and a continuing infusion of extra personnel. With so many of the senior management of the US and British intelligence communities appearing at times to lack even basic competence, with tactics that were unimaginative in the extreme and who are now so obviously steeped in a risk avoidance culture, it seems to many observers that any remaining chance of long-term success in the "war on terror" must have been largely lost by default. However, it is perfectly arguable that the means of defeating the Taliban has been available throughout the long, bitter and costly campaign waged by the Western allies in Afghanistan. This opportunity has been ignored and buried under an absurd combination of over-respect for human rights, a respect not reciprocated by either al-Qaeda or the Taliban; the unjustified diplomatic wish to avoid further alienating Iran and Pakistan; as well as a profound reluctance to face reality and accept that current policies have simply failed. In the months before and more particularly in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attack, the Western allies armed and encouraged the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance and a loose coalition of tribal warlords to take on and defeat the Taliban. This they spectacularly succeeded in doing. Since then, Western governments and particularly those in Washington and London have sought to "Westernize" what is still a largely medieval society, install a democratically elected government in Kabul and defeat the Taliban in the field with a combination of largely ineffective Afghan troops and dangerously overstretched US and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces. Simply put, this policy never stood a serious chance of success as many of the experienced "grey-heads" in the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS, known as MI6) knew perfectly well. However, their dissenting voices were soon stifled by forced early retirement, postings out of area and ultimately the denial of promotion. The senior management of both the CIA and SIS were undermined and sidelined or replaced by political appointees who were quickly used to ensure than the Intelligence services "sang from the same hymn sheet" as their political masters. Far from producing hard and often uncomfortable intelligence on the true nature of the situation in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, or for that matter on nuclear proliferation issues in Iran and North Korea, the Intelligence services have often been reduced to supplying information that if not actively supporting current political policy, could not easily be used to argue persuasively against it. Former US president George W Bush, but perhaps even more so Britain's long-serving prime minister Tony Blair, willfully reduced Western policy towards the nations that support Islamic extremism, as well as the nascent nuclear powers Iran and North Korea, to the same laughable diplomatic tack tried by former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain in 1938 - appeasement. History tells us quite clearly that appeasement of a dedicated enemy simply does not work. Direct confrontation and the moral strength of purpose to do whatever is necessary to achieve at least some semblance of success is the only viable and indeed honest course to take. An unrealistic level of respect for human rights, the all pervasive corruption of "political correctness" and the unwillingness to accept reality appear to be crippling the Western war effort against extremism and the terrorism it undoubtedly breeds. Not surprisingly, none of these factors was allowed to influence or interfere with a Western policy that saw the carpet bombing of Hamburg and Dresden or indeed the nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in World War II. It is proving increasingly difficult not to see the startlingly different standards applied to Germany and Japan in 1945, and those applied to the countries who arm, train and support Islamic terrorism today as nothing short of utter hypocrisy by Western leaders. There is undoubtedly a war for survival under way. However, the seriousness by which Western leaders appear to be taking it can, in at least some way at least, be gauged by their reluctance to now even refer to it as the "war on terror". Yet what else is it? A first step back towards an admittedly uncomfortable reality would be to finally have the political courage to face up to the increasingly dangerous situation in Afghanistan. Many experienced observers appear to believe that the time is now ripe for the Western allies to remove the political and military shackles and begin to take the necessary actions to avoid an embarrassing defeat. Those actions which offer the most hope include: Confront Pakistan. No more financial bailouts; diplomatic support or military aid until the government in Islamabad actually takes on Islamic extremism within the intelligence services, armed forces and throughout the country. Pakistan provides the roots of the Afghan conflict and these must be severed to increase the chances of finally defeating the Taliban. Re-arm anti-Taliban tribes. Re-equip the old Northern Alliance and the tribal warlords and turn them loose on the Taliban. These war-like groups understand the Taliban and have proved before to be valuable allies of the West in defeating them. It is arguably the best if not the only way to defeat the growing strength of the Taliban and their al-Qaeda allies. Accept that President Hamid Karzai has failed. Karzai has been a dismal failure and the removal or marginalization of some of his corrupt government in Kabul is an immediate necessity. The threat of growing domestic opposition to the war within the US and disquiet over the recent, fraud-tainted re-election of Karzai may now tempt the current administration in Washington to reconsider its support and if this means accepting some form of return to a semi-feudal Afghanistan, then so be it. There is now increasing evidence that Afghanistan's long-established tribal warlords are prepared to step up their fight against the Taliban and al-Qaeda if Washington would only agree to provide them with significant funding and new weapons allowing them to replay the role they had in the original overthrow of the Taliban regime in 2001-2002 With obvious impatience, ethnic Uzbek warlord General Abdul Rashid Dostum told The Washington Times in an interview at his northern stronghold in late September, "If you support me, I will destroy the Taliban and al-Qaeda," adding, "Give me the task and I will do it." At least 20 other warlords still hold significant power in Afghanistan. They include provincial governors such as Ismail Khan, Atta Mohammed Noor and Gul Agha Sherzai. Other former mujahideen, or anti-Soviet freedom fighters as they were more popularly known, have openly called for a shift in the current US strategy and indeed a number of these leaders have made similar offers to Washington. However, seeking or accepting their support does still hold a certain degree of danger for President Barack Obama. Among the obvious skeletons in the Afghan cupboard, Dostum and his Uzbek forces stand accused of numerous war crimes, including involvement in the reported suffocation of about 2,000 Taliban prisoners of war in vehicle containers. "He may not be the clean-cut US soldier and true, he has flip-flopped more than once, but he is a fighter and survivor," said a US military official speaking only on the condition of anonymity who has worked closely with Dostum in the past. "We need to count on the Afghan people and tribes much more than we are doing now. Without them this war is lost." Jason Motlagh and Sara A Carter, reporting in The Washington Times on September 22, quoted a former commander in the Northern Alliance who had fought the Taliban alongside the charismatic mujahideen leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, when he bluntly stated, "Afghanistan and its people are the only ones who can truly defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda." Identified only as "Mohammed", the former commander went on, "We need weapons and resources - more US troops are not necessary, but we would fight alongside them if asked." Making an impassioned plea for US understanding and support, "Mohammed" told the reporters, "We are not children that need to be watched over - we defeated the Soviets in the 1980s." He added significantly, "We can defeat the Taliban, but we need assistance from the US. Not more troops, but we need the NATO commanders to listen to us, support us. So far, they are not listening and the Afghan people fear they will be abandoned. This is no way to defeat an enemy." Caught between an unwillingness to either withdraw or alternatively commit sufficient resources to win, the current policies of Washington and London may only result in a cruel stalemate or an ignominious defeat. Western governments will now have to be both brave and wise to ignore the siren voices of appeasement, of compromise and of an addiction to some of the rather false and misleading values enshrined in human-rights legislation. Perhaps even braver still to take the necessary, but available military steps to secure some hope of victory. It is not only the security of the West at stake, but the lives and future of millions of ordinary Afghans and Pakistani's who have no wish to be forced to live in the nightmarish and backward looking world of the Taliban. Richard M Bennett, intelligence analyst and author.