3 Aug 2009

Afghanistan: time to disengage

The latest opinion poll in The Independent carried the headline, "Voters turn against war in Afghanistan". Despite the pro war propaganda campaign it reported that 52% of the British Public want the troops home now. (See http://bit.ly/2QXiDj).

Photo: Peace vigil in High Street with soldiers also collecting for charity

The government has declared 'mission accomplished' but even it had to admit they have only 'cleared' an area the size of the Isle of Wight of 500 Taliban, deploying 9000 troops to do so, at a cost of 22 soldiers killed and hundreds more wounded. This is unacceptable - for 8 years we have been fighting Afghans, longer than both the Great War and the Second World War. The costs are huge and recently estimated at £12 billion.

At a packed Stop the War meeting in London last week, it was reported that Afghan MP Malalai Joya explained how the occupation was a disaster for the Afghan people and is driving the country backwards. "We always reject occupation and foreign domination," she said, calling for solidarity from the anti-war movement. "I know there are millions of British people who want to see an end to this conflict as soon as possible. Together we can raise our voice for peace and justice." (See http://bit.ly/2x33Fz). In fact must note some of stuff in first half of this blog is adapted from Stop the War emails.

At the same rally featuring Lance Corporal Joe Glenton became the first serving British soldier to speak out publicly against the Afghan war. Today Joe faces a court martial hearing and a possible two-year prison term after going on the run rather than return to Afghanistan. He says he gradually became aware that justifications for occupying Afghanistan were ringing hollow. "The Afghan people were attacking us, even though our politicians said we were going in to help them. It came as a real shock. That's when I became aware that there was something seriously wrong with the war." Families of military are also becoming increasingly vocal.

It was also interesting to see Simon Jenkins writing in The Guardian - see here - worth a read - here is some of it...

"The one thing you know (and the enemy knows) about a named military operation is that it ends, which is one thing counter-insurgency can never do. All talk of talking to the Taliban forgets that Americans were talking to the Taliban before 9/11. Indeed, they spent a fortune training and arming them against Russia. Britain's first Helmand offensive in 2006 concluded that the Taliban would not be beaten and was followed by talking and a "cessation of hostilities", involving a series of local deals with (good) Taliban and a joint withdrawal agreement. It was later regarded as a disaster.

"...Any dispassionate observer returning from Afghanistan reports the same message. This is not working. People do not want their hearts and minds bribed or their infrastructure rebuilt. The money just gets stolen. They want their poppy crop left in peace and they want to know which sheikh or Taliban warlord will rule their lives a year from now. After years of being bombed, bankrupted and betrayed, they wonder who can offer them security. The answer is neither the British nor the regime in Kabul.

"...Everyone knows that the British will go but the Taliban will stay. That is why the strategy of take, hold and build is mere pastiche imperialism. It relies on the palpable nonsense that the Afghan army, a drugged militia of little competence and less loyalty, will fight and defeat its Pashtun cousins. It will not. All wars end in talking, even if the conversation is usually brief and one-sided. Such will be any deal with the Taliban, good or bad. As the Canadians and most Europeans have realised, Afghanistan is essentially a war of American vendetta, and the more stupid for it. Yes, it will end in talk, but how many more must die first?"

I'm not sure I agree that it was just vendetta - a big part was also oil and control of the region. Anyway the real cost is in lives, British soldiers on the one hand and Afghan militants on the other and then the tens of thousands of civilians. Soldiers and armies have to follow orders. But as citizens we have every right and duty to question what our country gets involved in and when it sends our forces into harm's way and that includes knowing when to call time. We have pulled out of Iraq it is now more than time to start disengaging from Afghanistan. That is certainly not an easy task...

Far far too many lives lost, yet the country is no closer to peace or democracy. The idea that democracy could be restored through military assaults proved to be wrong, yet it remains a central plank of the failed US strategy. We need to help Afghanistan re-build itself, but we can only do this by investing in economic reconstruction, training programmes and good governance – not endless warfare. The UK is now seen as the enemy by too many. The United Nations – not the United States and UK - should take the lead in restoring a peaceful democracy and ending the downward spiral of violence.

To finish see Green party comment on the new Inquiry into Iraq here and letter re Afghanistan here.

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