Yesterday The Times held an online debate on Afghanistan in which Matthew Parris, David Aaronovitch and Michael Evans answered emailed questions. It was predictable stuff - discussions of the Afghanistan mess tend to go round in circles, in fact the increasingly hackneyed nature of the debate reflects the intractability of the situation. But there was this fascinating response by Matthew Parris to one of the questioners:
Phil, though I don't buy this myself, I was fascinated to find, in Kabul, that a conspiracy theory very widely believed among Afghans who are not necessarily hostile to us, is that America/Britain could get Osama tomorrow if they wanted, and wipe out the Taliban from the air, if they wanted, but are leaving them in place as an excuse for establishing military bases there. Many ordinary Afghans just can't believe that with our superior military capability, we cannot remove the Taliban.
And why should they? I believe it. Asymmetric warfare rarely goes well. But the existence of such rumours shows what damage the campaign is doing to the West's reputation.