All or nothing in Afghanistan.

by

The situation:

The primary objective of the UK presence in Afghanistan is apparently to prevent the country from being used as a massive training camp for Islamist terrorists. We are informed that the majority of terrorist plots against the UK have some connection with Afghanistan or the semi-anarchic tribal area of bordering Pakistan – either being planned there or terrorists travelling there for preparation. I have no reason to think this isn’t true.

Adopting that fairly realist outlook on the overriding justification for the Afghan war, it seems to me that we either need to give the conflict ‘all’ or ‘nothing’. 

All:

If we accept that the military campaign in Afghanistan is necessary for ensuring Britain’s security then the government should have no hesitation in ratcheting up the campaign.

The generals have repeatedly stated that their job would be easier with greater resources. Therefore: send more troops, spend more money on equipment, make the defeat of the Taliban the top government priority.

A war that is so clearly needed will be supported by the public. After all, surely the government could easily make the case for prolonging a just and necessary war and for concentrating resources upon securing victory.

229 British troops have died in Afghanistan thus far. Sad and regrettable, but a miniscule number when compared to previous conflicts fought to keep the country safe. If the war is so necessary then the government and the public would be prepared for a much, much higher casualty rate. 

Nothing:

A cost-benefit analysis could lead to a different conclusion. 229 dead servicemen and women outnumber the combined British civilians killed in the 7/7 terrorist attacks (52 ), the 9/11 attacks (67), and the Bali bombings (24). Maintaining the British presence in Afghanistan is clearly going to result in more British deaths – even if a total defeat of the Taliban can be secured (there’s little confidence that this could happen soon).

At what point do we decide that the Afghan mission is costing more British lives than it is saving? Taking into additional account the resources required for fighting the war that could be invested in domestic public services with tangible social benefits, we may conclude that Britain’s national interests could be best served by withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and redistributing funds away from the defence budget.

Yes, Afghanistan would probably have to endure another bloody civil war and the reinstatement of a Taliban regime. Islamist terrorists may find it easier to plan attacks upon the West, or perhaps will lend greater support to the insurgents in Pakistan.

But if our decision-making is primarily guided by British interests then there is still a case to be made for ending the British military presence and abandoning Afghanistan to its fate. Painful as it is to say it, we could even calculate that putting up with a repeat of 7/7 (or several) works out cheaper in terms of lives and resources than maintaining the war.

Conclusion:

As the conflict continues the hopes for the Western mission in Afghanistan have become increasingly subdued. The idea of spreading freedom and democracy has been practically abandoned. Even the more modest aim of simply establishing a secure and effective anti-Taliban government (however corrupt and undemocratic it is) is proving difficult.

If we are serious about preventing another Taliban takeover because we genuinely feel this is necessary for protecting British national security then surely we have to give the Afghan campaign everything we’ve got. If, however, we are unwilling to make such sacrifices then there is no point in maintaining the mission upon its present course and instead the government should immediately organise a timetable for withdrawal.

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3 Responses to “All or nothing in Afghanistan.”

  1. Richard T Says:

    WEre we to have a sensible government, we would be spending all that we currrently lay out on an unwinnable war in Afghanistan to working with the Pakistani government to create a stable and prosperous Pakistan. It seems beyond self evident that the stability of the area is best served thus particularly as Pakistan is a nuclear power and for a failed state to have a nuclear capacity is not a pleasant thought.

    If this means leaving Afghanistan to the Taleban then so be it. A stable well administered Pakistan to its east and a very wary concerned Iran to its west should assist with a cordon sanitaire. I can appreciate the effects on Afghanis of having an obscurantist mediaeval government but then the solution rests with them to overthrow them if they can. We are not going to be able to impose a western democracy there and in passing the shady democratic credentials of the USA and the UK don’t really provide much credibility with 60% turnouts and a 36% vote from that turnout producing a strong majority here and let’s leave Florida alone for balloting and counting shennigans.

  2. JohnG Says:

    A good, succinct summary of the British and American position; I was beginning to wonder if captainjako is the secret advisor to both Obama and Geordie.
    Then I read the conclusion which is so neatly stuck on the fence that I am sure of it.

  3. captainjako Says:

    Frankly I just don’t know!

    All options are hugely risky. Unfortunately it seems easier to simply maintain the situation as it is in an unsatisfactory stalemate rather than either go for the massive committment to Afghanistan or the process of withdrawal – especially for Gordon considering that it’s really the US decision that’s important and he probably can’t expect to be PM for much longer….

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