It is at least six years late, but finally a senior political figure has found the courage to call for an immediate withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan. Lord Ashdown pulled few punches in his impassioned plea in The Times, criticising Britain’s early military strategy and accusing the government of becoming distracted by adventures in Iraq when it should have been focused on Afghanistan.
All true, but while Ashdown called out the government for its political failings, he neglected to mention the string of lies senior ministers have perpetuated about Afghanistan, or point the finger at senior military figures who’ve been more than willing to support that deceit. How any politician can say with a straight face that we are in Afghanistan to keep the streets of Britain safe is beyond me, when everyone knows our involvement has fuelled the flames of home grown terrorism. Then there’s the lie of the moment—that Afghan troops can somehow be vetted to stop ‘rogue’ recruits from turning their weapons on their NATO mentors. As I argued on BBC Radio 5 Live earlier this week, nothing can be done to stop green on blue attacks because an element of the men we’re trying to train up have viewed us as the enemy since we entered Afghanistan back in 2001.
I’ve been screaming it from the rafters since I started this blog and I’ll scream it again. AFGHANISTAN IS NOT AN INSURGENCY. IT’S A CIVIL WAR AND WE’VE TAKEN ONE SIDE IN IT. Since 2006 when British troops entered Helmand Province, they’ve been trying to win over the people on the other side of that conflict—a futile, senseless task presided over by sloping shouldered generals and senior military brass who care more about pleasing politicians than they do the lives of their troops. These senior officers know who they are, and they should hang their heads in shame. I really don’t know how they or their chums in government can sleep at night knowing how many brave British troops they have and continue to put in harm’s way for no other reason than to justify past mistakes.
Why is it taking our government so long to act in the best interest of our troops when our Canadian, Dutch and French NATO allies have found the political will to bring their forces home? There is no justification for Britain’s continued presence in Afghanistan. None.
I am so proud of our soldiers and junior officers for sticking it out day after day when the consensus is the next step in Afghanistan is an escalation of the civil war. And don’t think for a moment it will be a straight up battle between the Taliban and a central government backed by a 350,000 strong Afghan security force. That’s a lie planted by ministers and parroted by talking heads who want to pretend we’ve actually achieved something worthwhile in Afghanistan. The truth is the country is divided into fiefdoms controlled by warlords who sit side by side in parliament today but will be at each other’s throats tomorrow. It will be a bloody morass of battling ethnic groups, fuelled by ANA deserters armed and trained by NATO.
Far from a “worse case” scenario, this ethnic chaos is already unfolding. For years now, many bombings and shootings blamed on the Taliban have been carried out by proxies of warlords who are jockeying for turf and power ahead of NATO’s drawdown.
To be fair, I did spend six years in Afghanistan operating largely outside of the security bubble so unlike our senior brass and ministers, I had a chance to meet Afghans from all ethnicities and backgrounds and see what was really happening at ground level. Perhaps if all the ministers, MPs, senior military figures and think tank talking heads arguing for us to stay in Afghanistan until 2014 understood what they are really asking of our troops, they’d have a rethink. So I suggest we put the “stay the course” brigade onto a C130 Hercules aircraft, have them parachute out over Helmand province with a rifle, four magazines and a 24-hour ration pack each and let them try to win over the locals. I guarantee they won’t think it’s a mission worth dying for.