Afghan and UK coffins

Yesterday the number of British troops killed there surpassed the total deaths of british troops in Iraq and is now, if the past week is anything to go by, rapidly heading to the 200 mark. Nearly all these deaths have occurred in the past three years, since the British went into Helmand province.

Indeed the deaths last year were only slightly lower than the most lethal year of the conflict in Iraq.

Defence Secretary John Reid said when he sent the troops in that he hoped they could leave again without a shot being fired.In this past long week in Afghanistan British soldiers were being killed at the rate of one day and where suddenly the death toll over one 24 hour period went up to eight. It adds up to 15 troops killed in the past ten days.

These figures have sobered up even the most gung ho media coverage, which has gone from triumph to tears in just a couple of weeks. Still, the banality of some of the reporting really takes your breath away. The worst day ever, they say. The bloodiest day. Agreed, for the British army. But maybe the Afghans feel a little differently after seeing film and photos of survivors from the airstrike on a village in May which killed over 140 people.
And here’s the rub. This is a war, where Afghans will fight back against British or any other Nato troops who attack them. This is the ‘good war’ which has turned bad.

It seems to surprise some journalists. The embedded BBC reporter talked the other day about the Taliban standing their ground and fighting, as though this were somehow not playing by the Queensberry rules. There are repeated complaints that the Taliban use roadside bombs which are hidden. Yet this is an admission that the British army, one of the best financed and best equipped in the world, cannot deal with bombs made with mobile phones and improvised explosives from gas canisters.

Calls come from politicians for better protection, more money spent on vehicles and body armour. Of course it is hypocritical for politicians who bang the drum about the war to then fail to will the finances to pay for equipment. But this is not the central issue. The war is failing and will continue to fail because it is not about a noble cause, the protection of the Afghan people or –
most bizarrely – the protection of people in Britain.

It is about US and British control of a region which has long been the subject of inter imperialist rivalry. The Taliban are not the mortal enemies of the US –
their representatives visited Texas a decade ago to discuss an oil pipeline through the country, and as recently as last year there were secret talks with the Taliban to try to achieve peace.

The renewed fighting means another strategy is being pursued. In the course of that the foreign secretary, David Miliband, and the defence minister Bob Ainsworth, make a series of justifications which are straightforward lies. They say they are defending the Afghan government, but it is one of the most corrupt in the world. They say they are helping the Afghan people, but ten times as much is spent on military in the country as on reconstruction.
And they say they are protecting people here, all the while that they recognise the likelihood of future terrorism being fuelled by this war.

Gordon Brown said yesterday that ‘there is a chain of terror that runs from the mountains and towns of Afghanistan to the streets of Britain’. Yet it is the war on terror that has increased terrorism and more and more people see Brown’s arguments for the self serving ones that they are.

It is striking how, even among the friends and families of dead and wounded soldiers, there is growing unease about the war, and some outright calls for the troops to come home. They are right. Those who call for more troops to go there, or for more money to be spent, are not helping the troops but doing them a disservice.

Vietnam was the same: more troops were poured in, more politicians declared that this was the only way to maintain democracy and freedom. But the Americans lost, and who now justifies that war?

History will look back at the terrible cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and wonder what on earth the major powers thought they were doing in the 21st century creating a wasteland in one of the poorest countries in the world –
and why people put up with it so long. It’s time to organise.

Protest: Monday 13th July, 5-7pm, Downing Street.

Lindsey German

As national convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, Lindsey was a key organiser of the largest demonstration, and one of the largest mass movements, in British history.

Her books include ‘Material Girls: Women, Men and Work’, ‘Sex, Class and Socialism’, ‘A People’s History of London’ (with John Rees) and ‘How a Century of War Changed the Lives of Women’.