By Ray Fleming

THE recent embarrassing Taliban attack on a NATO base in Afghanistan and a suicide bombing in the capital city of Kabul have prompted the Secretary General of NATO, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, to write a newspaper article with the headline “The Taliban is hitting, but not winning”. Mr Rasmussen says: “The point is that in 2010 , preventing each and every Taliban attack is not the point...ours is a political offensive, and it is aimed right at the heart of the Taliban.”

This view of what is happening in Afghanistan from the head of NATO is surprising and contrasts strongly with the opinions of Britain's new Defence Minister, Liam Fox, expressed during his visit last weekend. Referring to the coming “surge” of some 20'000 American troops in the Kandahar area Mr Rasmussen said, “There will be no D Day in Kandahar...our effort will be to change the political situation.”

He also listed three major developments which will work towards this aim; President Karsai's peace jirga which will set out conditions by which former Taliban supporters can re-enter the Afghan system; a Kabul Conference at which foundations will be laid for a transition to Afghan leadership, politically and militarily; and elections in September to give the Afghan parliament a new mandate.

Perhaps Mr Rasmussen is right but his optimism seems strangely at odds with so many other views from the military, from diplomats and the media about the depressing reality of the situation in Afghanistan.