Britain remains entrenched in bloody conflict in Afghanistan yet this entire mess has lost all purpose. At least in Iraq the obvious reason for our continued involvement remains the vast and valuable oil supplies that lay underground, but Afghanistan?
The original political pitch of ‘regime change’ was strongly supported. In the wake of the Twin Towers attacks eye-for-an-eye revenge struck on an international scale would topple tyranical Taliban rulers who had provided safe haven to al-Qaeda and oppressed their own people for years. Yet the Taliban was quickly overthrown with most of its leaders either killed, imprisoned or chased off to hide out in the Afghan hills.
Seven years on – longer than World War II – and we still remain. Even many of our own politicians appear perplexed as to why. In early August this year, the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee basically admitted that British troops were simply trying to do too much. ‘The UK has experienced mission creep from its initial goal of supporting the US in countering international terrorism, far into the realms of counter-insurgency, counter-narcotics, protection of human rights and state-building,’ according to committee chairman Mike Gapes. Mission creep? Gapes is clearly a master of understatement.
Peddling heroin on a global scale seems to be pushing the limits of even the most cynical government critic. Perhaps a new source of precious uranium has been uncovered, a rich seam of coal or maybe we want to turn Afghanistan into a solar power source for the west, covering its huge plains and hillsides with mirrors.
The government, however, offers only the feeblest of explanations in the face of an ever rising military death toll. It defensively insists that Britain is fighting to protect its ‘national security’, yet if this is true shouldn’t we have a significant military presence in Saudi Arabia aimed at protecting our nation’s sovereignty and security – that’s where most of 9/11 terrorists called home. It sounds far more like a dismissive retort that suggests Brown and his cronys hope we’ll just just accept what we’re told and stop asking questions. All the while the numbers of dead and injured British troops rises by the day.
According to figures recently published by the Guardian newspaper, 216 British troops have been killed in Afghanistan since the conflict started in 2001. Increasingly worrying, however, is the escalating year-on-year trend, with single figure annual death tolls between 2001-2005 jumping to 39 in 2006, 42 (2007), 51 (2008) and 79 already killed this year. Similarly, figures for soldiers receiving serious in-combat injuries have also risen markedly over the past four years – 31 reported in 2006, 63 (2007), 65 (2008) and 96 in 2009 so far. The BBC website has an interactive map showing UK military deaths in equally sobering detail with data on UK military fatalities to date, broken down by region, rank, age and cause.
In a country traditionally run by local chiefs the introduction of a western-style democratically-elected government has proved to be an impossible mission. Now, after years of banging away at this drawn out objective, even many Afghans are starting to view our troops as occupying aggressors and not liberating forces. It’s time to leave Afghanistan to the Afghans and bring home our troops for good.