How could the litany of failure in Afghanistan possibly have been worth the deaths of hundreds of British and uncounted thousands of Afghan lives?
A poll taken on 26 October 2014 indicated 68 percent of the British public think the UK’s military campaign in Afghanistan was not “worthwhile.” A further 42 percent thought Britain was “less safe” as a result of the war. Only 14 percent of those surveyed felt Britain was safer.
Even by the dubious standards of reporting on Afghanistan, the public discussion around the muted departure ceremony at Camp Bastion has been dismal.
Given the current state of Afghanistan even the most pro-war commentators could hardly be triumphalist. But John Simpson typified the confusion this morning when he took the view that 'on balance' the occupation had been worthwhile because the country was at least stable, while in the very same sentence admitting that three rockets had fallen on the capital Kabul last night.
The reality on the ground makes it hard for those who want to defend the record of the occupation. It is a tough job to sustain the line that the fight against the Taliban has been effective or that the country is moving towards peace when the Afghan army themselves are having to admit that their soldiers are being killed at a rate of 11 a day and that 4,000 have been killed so far this year.
Helmand and neighbouring Nimroz, two provinces that Britain had special responsibility for, are amongst the most violent in the country. Since March, 272 Afghan soldiers and 506 policemen have been killed in these provinces, almost double the number of British soldiers killed in the entire war.
Much is being made of some social and economic progress in the country, but its difficult to see why. You don't have to read far in to the most recent United Nations Devlopment Report to find that its authors regards Afghanistan as an economic disaster, and directly link its economic problems to war and occupation.
The two opening sentence of the introduction read, "After decades of war and political instability, Afghanistan remains on of the poorest countries in the world. In 2011 Afghanistan ranked 172nd out of 187 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.
There have apparently been welcome advances in the number of women attending school, but the widely repeated idea that womens' lives have been transformed by western military intervention can't be taken seriously when Amnesty International are putting out alerts about women workers lives being in danger and just three years ago leading development agencies judged Afghanistan the most dangerous country in the world for women .
What about the stated aims of the occupation? One of the tasks assigned especially to British forces was to control and limit the opium trade from Afghanistan. It is not surprising there hasn't been a great deal of discussion of this because just five months ago a US Congressional report on the subject conluded that the Afghanistan drug problem is worse than it has ever been and 'appears to be worsening'.
But of course the 2001 invasion of Afghanistan was sold to us first and foremost as a response to the 9/11 attacks. The aim was to strip away the Taliban in order to eradicate Al Qaeda and thereby make the world a safer place. On this - the central rationale for the whole operation - there is little room for argument.
In the years since 2001 terrorist groups like Al Qaeda have spread from their original base in Central Asia in an arc from Pakistan through the Middle East and accross significant parts of the African continent and beyond. The world of 2001 looked stable and secure compared to the violence and volatility in a good deal of this area now. Security services are regularly reporting increased levels of terror threats in the West.
How could this litany of failure have possibly been worth the deaths of hundreds of British and uncounted thousands of Afghan lives? Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has admitted that 'some mistakes' were made in Afghanistan. As he and other politicians drag us further and further back in to war in Iraq it is very important that we draw the more honest conclusion from the experience of Afghanistan. The mistake was to go there in the first place.
Chris Nineham is a founder member of Stop the War and Counterfire, speaking regularly around the country on behalf of both. He is author of The People Versus Tony Blair and Capitalism and Class Consciousness: the ideas of Georg Lukacs.
More articles from this author
- It’s not the vaccine, it’s the vacuousness: polling, politics and the Starmer slump
- Biden's presidency, the warmakers and the anti-war movement in the US
- Conscious barbarism: Pompeo ramps up war on Yemen in final days of Trump administration
- The government will not deal with the Covid emergency. The labour movement must step up.
- ICC dropping investigation into Iraq war crimes is a scandal - video
- Is there life outside Labour?
- US foreign policy is unlikely to become less belligerent under Biden