September 02, 2006

14 British Servicemen killed in Afghanistan: withdraw or push on?

Afghanistan is one of the most troubled states in the world. Only a handful of African states fare worse because of the enormous death toll caused by civil war.

The government of Hamid Karzai only has power over a small part of the country, centred on the capital, while the rest of the country is largely lawless, run by warlords and drug dealers. Attacks on young girls haven’t subsided since the apparent fall of the Taliban, and liberalism is taking a long time to spread in parts of the countrry. Amongst the landmines, poppy fields and tribal fighting sit the NATO forces, many of whom are currently British.

The number of British deaths in the country has been running at a considerably worse rate than in Iraq, and the main reason Afghanistan isn’t seen as such a disaster is that there’s a sense that things were worse before we invaded in 2001.

Essentially the Afghan mission is seen as a noble one, which is why we will tolerate greater losses than we would in Iraq. But there are still questions about whether we can make a difference in Afghanistan. The mission may be noble, but it could well prove to be futile too.

A British general said last month that fighting in the country was more intense than anything the British have seen since the 1950s, and it’s possible to draw comparisons with what the U.S. found in Vietnam.

But the problems in Afghanistan aren’t just military ones. There’s the long-term question of how the country will be unified if peace can be brought to the country. The sad likelihood is that peace, if achieved, would only be temporary. As we’ve found in Iraq, killing insurgents only encourages more to join the fight. And while war continues, the economy suffers and opium production becomes more essential to the people of Afghanistan. The longer it takes, the more violent Afghanistan will become. But as with Iraq, and the ‘War on Terror’ in general, achieving victory will always be an unachievable objective.

We have to push on. The country will only get worse if we leave. But we shouldn’t expect it to be easy, quick, or particularly successful. NATO’s engagement in Afghanistan will be a long, arduous one, with complete success very unlikely.

- 2 comments by 0 or more people Not publicly viewable

  1. Gareth Herbert

    Afghanistan, like Iraq, is demonstrating that if you are serious about military interventions of this type, you cannot do it on the cheap. Right now we have approximately 6,000 troops trying to clamp down on the opium industry, promote security, assist with reconstruction and launch offensive strikes against the Taleban. Anyone who for a second believes that this is sufficient for a task of such magnitude and also such importance is out of their mind.

    Recently a British soldier likened his base camp in the Helmand province to being like a scene from the Alamo, if we are struggling to control our base camps then what hope do we have of providing even the most meagre amount of protection for the rest of the country, much less provide positive assistance to the thoroughly altruistic goal of rebuilding a failed state.

    Perhaps in deciding that this conflict should be fought on the basis of “treasury rules” have conceded that the cost required for victory is greater than the cost of defeat. Perhaps we as a nation are all too happy to make grandstanding gesticulations about concepts like democracy and liberty but in reality are unwilling to do what is necessary for our words to bear fruit. We are left with a choice, either we take our toes out of the water before the shark bites them off or we take the plunge and give our armed forces the numbers and the equipment necessary so that they can do the job they were sent there to do.

    I favour the latter option, but lets not kid ourselves that we can abstain from the choice. Justice, democracy, liberty and sovereignty cannot be bought on the cheap.

    04 Sep 2006, 22:57

  2. Hamid Sirhan

    Afghanistan, at least if done properly, is one of the cases where I support American or British intervention whatever the public or private reasons because the Taliban really had nothing positive about their regime. Afghanis may be caught in a sort of civil war but if America pulls its socks up, then the country has a chance to breathe unlike when it was fully under the Taliban.

    09 Sep 2006, 21:16

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