Afghans are known for changing sides back and forth during their long years of war — there is an old saying that “you can rent an Afghan but never buy one” — and battles have often been decided by defections rather than combat.

Paying Taliban foot-soldiers to switch sides could spare US lives and save money, say its advocates. A recent report by the Senate foreign relations committee estimated the Taliban fighting strength at 15,000, of whom only 5% are committed idealogues while 70% fight for money — the so-called $10-a-day Taliban. Doubling this to win them over would cost just $300,000 a day, compared with the $165m a day the United States is spending fighting the war.

The tactic was used to good effect in Iraq where the US government put 100,000 Sunni gunmen on its payroll for about $300 a month each…

[One serving general] described as “crazy” the idea that “we can just cut deals with the Taliban without having to do anything”.

He added: “At the moment you can’t recruit from Pashtun communities or their families will be killed, so we need to first improve security.”