Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the Brit in Charge of the Af-Pak 'Kill List'

Magazine article The Spectator

Meet the Brit in Charge of the Af-Pak 'Kill List'

Article excerpt

No one has followed the Taleban and al-Qa'eda more closely than Richard Barrett, head of the United Nations monitoring mission. He tells Christina Lamb why Obama's reinforcements won't scare the fundamentalists away

It's known as the 'kill list'. The world's biggest directory of bad guys - the 1267, as it is officially called after the United Nations resolution which voted it into force - has long been essential kit for Special Forces scouring Afghanistan and the tribal badlands of Pakistan for al-Qa'eda and Taleban.

From Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar down, finding or eliminating these baddies will be crucial to the success of President Barack Obama's much awaited Get Out of Afghanistan strategy.

But there's one big problem. There are no wanted posters like in cowboy movies or even a deck of cards like that used in Iraq featuring Saddam and his henchmen. Many of the people on the 1267 have no photograph, no address and often only one name.

Those who do have pictures are barely distinguishable bearded men in turbans.

The man in charge of the list is former British secret agent Richard Barrett. The head of the UN Commission Monitoring the Taleban and al-Qa'eda, he sits in an office in New York with a large world map on the wall. Disappointingly, it has no big red cross marked Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar.

'No, I don't have it bristling with black pins for bad guys, ' he laughs. 'I wish I knew where they are.'

He admits that after eight years of international forces fighting in Afghanistan and despite the efforts of the world's most sophisticated satellite technology, fewer than one fifth of the men named have been found. Of the 508 names on the list, he estimates that about 30 are dead, 50 are imprisoned in Guantanamo and elsewhere and the rest are still at large.

On Tuesday night, after 94 days of deliberation and nine war councils, Obama finally came down on the side of the generals to send more troops, if not quite as many as they wanted. The clinching argument was that the Taleban must be defeated in Afghanistan to prevent al-Qa'eda from reestablishing a base that could be used to plot attacks against Americans or other Western nations.

But is this true? There is probably nobody alive who has followed the two groups more closely than Barrett.

And what he has seen is that eight years of fighting, at the cost of more than 1,000 soldiers' lives and billions of dollars, have succeeded only in pushing al-Qa'eda 80 miles south over the border - while sending in more troops has increased Taleban activity. 'Why would you keep walking into a minefield?' he asks, when questioned about the wisdom of sending more troops to Afghanistan. 'Surely as soon as you realised you'd retrace your steps. But then if you do that you're just proving everyone right - that we always just walk away.'

In his slightly crumpled grey suit, Barrett might blend in with all the other suits in the UN headquarters, but before assuming this role he was head of overseas counter-terrorism for SIS. On 11 September 2001 he was in the Maritime Alps preparing to climb a glacier when a friend arrived to tell him of the attacks. He immediately packed and headed for Lyons where he caught the next plane to London, fearing it would be the next target.

'We had been focusing almost exclusively on al-Qa'eda for some time but were underresourced, ' he recalls. 'There was a lot of action but of course we missed the big one.'

He took over as co-ordinator of the UN Commission Monitoring Taleban and alQa'eda in 2004, inheriting the list. Compiled on the basis of submissions by member states rather than on criminal evidence, it contains 255 al-Qa'eda and 142 Taleban names.

The remainder are groups or entities linked to al-Qa'eda, such as the Pakistani militant group Lashkar-i-Toiba, responsible for the Mumbai massacre, and the Afghan warlords Gulbuddin Hekmatyar and Jalaluddin Haqqani, and Jalaluddin's son Siraj. …

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