Posts Tagged ‘Afghanistan’

Some tourism before going back to fighting terrorism.

February 16, 2010

The other day whilst working at the Imperial War Museum (as I occasionally do) a British army officer arrived with a group of slightly bewildered-looking men.

He announced that they were Afghan soldiers who had been brought over to the UK for military training and a spot of sightseeing. A couple of them had cameras and were eagerly taking snaps of all the guns and tanks – though you’d think they’d get enough of that stuff in Afghanistan!

Hopefully hanging around in London didn’t freak them out too much. It would obviously be slightly counterproductive to invite Afghan troops to visit the UK as part of a ‘hearts’n’minds’ operation only to have them decide that the West genuinely is morally corrupt, decadent, awful, etc and that life under the Taliban again would be far more preferable.

It’s nice to think that the Afghan visitors will go back to their country and have positive things to say about Britain. They could maybe tell their friends, families, and colleagues about what they saw and liked. Obviously the Afghan people have to shape their own future, but I for one hope they will be able to build a society based on democracy, tolerance and pluralism.

And perhaps one day Afghans will have to go their own Afghan War Museum if they want to find out what a tank or a bomb look like.


Flashman Gordon.

December 13, 2009

The BBC is reporting that Gordon Brown has become the first Prime Minister since the Second World War to spend a night in a combat zone.

Ok. Maybe it’s not quite as dramatic as Winston Churchill’s foolhardy determination to be present at the D-Day landings (and only being dissuaded from this by the intervention of the King).

But as wartime propaganda stunts go, this is far more impressive than – for example – George W Bush walking around an aircraft carrier and declaring victory in Iraq.

Scum Sun.

November 11, 2009

The Sun have been displaying a disgusting lack of respect for dead servicemen by misspelling Jacqui Jane’s name. Harry’s Place has the evidence.

I hope the Sun’s web editor at least has the excuse of being blind in one eye. Perhaps the appropriate course of action now is to tap the grieving and clearly distressed Jacqui Jane’s phone as she calls the Sun to express her anger. That would be both sensible and sensitive.

Yes, someone should definitely have been checking the spelling in the PM’s letters to the bereaved and should have got Brown to write another one. This story is yet another example of a boob that could have been avoided through there being just a bit more competence at No 10.

But only a political ignoramus could fail to recognise that the Sun is shamelessly exploiting Mrs Janes’ grief as part of its ongoing efforts to destroy both Brown and the Labour government. They’re loving this.

Sun owner and creepy capitalist Rupert Murdoch recently supported infamous Fox News mentalist Glenn Beck in his assertion that President Obama is a racist who hates white people.

Remember that Fox is also part of Murdoch’s media empire. Can we expect similarly unhinged ‘journalism’ to become more mainstream in Britain? Is the Sun’s pushing of the Jacqui Janes story evidence of this happening? Who knows? The whole saga has, however, reminded me of Mike Royko‘s quote:

“No self-respecting fish would be wrapped in a Murdoch paper”


All or nothing in Afghanistan.

November 4, 2009

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’. 


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. 


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.


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.

The logic of the suicide bomber and the war in Afghanistan.

September 4, 2009

Tom Harris has a post in which he rails against left-wingers suggesting that our government’s foreign policy brought Islamist terror, i.e. the 7/7 bombings, to Britain.

He calls it a “dishonest, craven and blindingly stupid argument” supported by people who want “to pin the blame for terrorism on the British government, and not on the murdering psychopaths who actually set off the explosives on London’s transport system”.

He also goes on to say “the war in Afghanistan is sadly necessary and the public’s impatience with the mission’s progress can have no bearing on the rights or wrongs of our presence there”.

Tom is being unfair. Only the tin foil hat brigade suggest that 7/7 was carried out by the government. All sane people have to accept that Hasib Hussain, Mohammad Sidique Khan, Germaine Lindsay and Shehzad Tanweer chose to blow themselves up and murder their fellow British citizens on July 7th 2005.

Of course the terrorists should be condemned for this atrocious act. That’s the easy bit. Understanding why people choose to engage in acts of terrorism is more difficult but ultimately more important if we want to prevent similar attacks in the future. Dismissing suicide bombers as psychopaths motivated only by hate and fanaticism is too simplistic.

Terrorism boffin Robert Pape has written of ‘The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism’. Reviewing the history of terrorists blowing themselves up, a tactic pioneered by Hezbollah but also used extensively by the secular Tamil Tigers throughout the 1990s, Pape argues that suicide terrorists are basically motivated by the down-to-earth desire to compel governments (usually democracies) to withdraw from territory the terrorists consider to be part of their homeland.

In their ‘martyrdom’ video the 7/7 bombers ranted against Western culture and presented themselves as religious nutters (as is tradition for Islamist terrorists) but also included clear criticisms of Britain’s foreign policy: the close alliances with the US and Israel, the decision to go war in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the resulting “atrocities” committed against their Muslim “brothers and sisters” across the world.

Counter-terrorism efforts that ignore terrorists’ proclaimed motivations are doomed to fail. In the case of the 7/7 bombers it seems ridiculous to try to insist that British foreign policy had nothing to do with their willingness to launch suicide attacks on London.

Combine Pape’s analysis with the ideological pull of an interpretation of Islam that emphasises violent jihad and obligation to the ummah and it could be said that the 7/7 bombers were indeed motivated by a strategic logic.

As extreme Islamists they had come to consider themselves primarily members of a global Muslim community rather than British citizens. They therefore saw Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, etc, as part of their Muslim homeland that needed defending from non-Muslims. It’s the same logic that has led to British Muslims travelling to fight in Afghanistan on the side of the Taliban.

To me, it all seems very similar to the crude ‘blood and soil’ ethnonationalist politics of the far-right, which is partly why I think Islamism should be included as a target of anti-fascism. However, Marc Sageman’s brilliant book ‘Leaderless Jihad’ also compares Islamist terrorists to the volunteers of the International Brigades who went to fight in Spain during the civil war. It’s an uncomfortable but insightful characterisation.  

It’s not just anti-war lefties who argue that foreign policy plays a part in triggering terrorism. The Home Office’s 2009 revised strategy on countering the terrorist threat (known as Contest 2) admitted that “conflict” is a cause of radicalisation and terrorist violence. It reads:

“Conflict and the failure of states create grievances which can play a key role in the radicalisation process. Many Muslims as well as non-Muslims believe that the West (notably the US and the UK) has either caused conflict, failure and suffering in the Islamic world or done too little to resolve them. Military intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan (and consequent civilian casualties), perceived Western inaction in Palestine and alleged support for authoritarian Islamic governments have all created controversy and anger”.

The document also predicts that Islamist terrorism is likely to persist because “many of the conflicts and disputes exploited by contemporary terrorist organisations show no signs of early resolution”.

I accept that allowing Afghanistan to return to the control of the Taliban would in all likelihood be beneficial to terrorist organisations that want to target the UK. However, it’s ludicrous to ignore the evidence that the prosecution of the war can itself radicalise Muslims into becoming terrorists. 

If it looks like the military efforts in Afghanistan are doing more to create terrorism than to hinder it, then from the counter-terrorist perspective the war should be ended.

Of course, that’s not the only perspective that needs to be taken into consideration. Our idealistic wish to encourage governance based on human rights in Afghanistan is an argument in favour of continued military presence, though these efforts seem more and more like a tragic farce. The need to undermine an insurgent force that could destabilise Pakistan and its nuclear weapons also stands in the war’s favour, yet military action may be causing more instability than it addresses.

But as things stand it is not clear what is being achieved in Afghanistan or even what the government wants to achieve. It will take more sophisticated arguments than Tom Harris’ to reassure the public that the war is worthwhile.

Enduring Freedom

August 16, 2009

Is this what we’re fighting for?