The war in Afghanistan

There are several different debates going on about the war.

There is the question of whether our troops have the right equipment and numbers. Whatever the government may say, it seems clear that the coalition as a whole needs more troops and we need better equipped troops to do the job. Too many lives have been placed in danger owing to the lack of cover,support, helicopters and properly armoured road transport. The Americans have now reinforced the position with their own personnel. The UK needs to speed up the supply of additional air cover, air lift, and properly armoured vehicles to help UK troops in difficult and dangerous terrain.

This morning I hear the question being debated whether our troops are too young. The front line troops are on average in their early 20s, well trained and fit. They are volunteers for army life and many of them want to be on active service. This is not the issue.

There is no doubting their resolve, skill and bravery. All political parties are united in praising how well they carry out difficult orders in a large and hostile territory.

The issue is not even whether the aims of the campaign are worthwhile. Again, political parties and most people in the UK are united in thinking it would be good to bring peace and greater prosperity to Afghanistan. Most are proud of troops who free a community from terrorism, or who keep open a school that allows young women to be educated, or who provide sufficient security for a democratic government to govern.

The central issue is can we achieve all that we would like? What will the cost be in lives lost and injuries sustained? For how long will the legitimate civilian power in that country want foreign troops to help it? What is the exit strategy?

We have been there for a long time. The fighting is more intense now than at many times in the past. Why can’t the government address these questions? The country needs some reassurance not that the cause is just or our troops are brave, but reassurance that it knows how and when to get out, leaving Afghanistan a better place.

We need an exit strategy and we need it soon.


  1. Colin D.
    July 10, 2009

    The Government need to spell out to us clearly (1) why we are fighting now (2) the long term risks of doing nothing (3) why it is in the interests of the British people to be fighting at all.
    After that, I would like to know which countries are providing arms, money and resources to the people we are fighting and what action our Government is taking against those nations. We also need to be told what we are doing to cut the cross border supply lines into Afghanistan.

  2. no one
    July 10, 2009

    ill be unpopular

    1 there needs to be real engagement at the philosopical/political level with the people of afganistan

    2 it will take at least a generation to turn around, the time it takes to educate a new generation, asssuming better education happens

    3 the officer class of the british army is dire, absolutely usless, how long will we go on tolerating second rate idiots running the show, in place simply because they went to public school, this i am afraid is a national scandal

    4 the airforce is also a national disgrace, good at PR but little else, really we should get some good miltary aviators like sharky ward (navy harrier commander from the falklands) to come in and do a review of the airforce, the air force is far too bad at ground support

    5 why are we launching new warships like HMS Daring sailing around with nothing but her 4.5 and a brace of 30mms – a rather pathetic capability for a £1.1bn ship with a crew of 200? this is not the way to run a navy

    so much of this is so simple to sort out, so much due to the dross in the MOD and officers stuck in the london political circuit

    me id take some special forces sergents, put them through university, afterwards give them accelerated promotion through the officer ranks, and let them compete with the public school placemen, oh but we havent got enough special forces sergents and we have way too many public school placemen – i forgot

    and of course we have pakistan, as much of the problem is in pakistan as is in afganistan, yet we seem to be ignoring that, not really a convincing strategy

    what a mess we are in

    1. Stuart Fairney
      July 10, 2009

      Where is your evidence for assertion three? A great many officers did not attend public school. Your proposal for promoting from the ranks already happens.

      Are you simply revealing outdated prejudices?

      1. Mike Stallard
        July 10, 2009

        Or – more scarily – the reality that there are now, under New Labour, two classes: the Public School Educated people, and the ordinary people from the Comprehensives?

        1. Stuart Fairney
          July 10, 2009

          Speaking as an ordinary person from an odious, useless, utterly failed comprehensive, I will sell my organs before I send my son to one.

          Unlike most of the Nu-Labour elite, I saw this nonsense first hand and can honestly say, my formal education ceased at 12 and only re-started at 17 when I started reading independently. I was taught to be a good little drone and how the Tennessee valley authority and the New Deal saved America so yay for socialism etc

          Anyone care to buy a kidney…

      2. no one
        July 10, 2009

        yea a few get promoted from the ranks or get into sandhurst without the public school accent

        the reality remains that the officer class of the forces, especially the army, and especially some regiments, is over populated by public school folk who would not be there by merit if recruitment was a real meritocracy

        and most folk who have seen them close up know its a weakness, and we loose out on some of the best talent we have

        AND once in working class backgrounds are pretty much glass ceiling at about major regardless of how good they are, RAMC excepted

        and the worst part is apart from the PC press releases the generals think this is the way to do it, sadly every other organisation including other armies, have proven them wrong wrong wrong

  3. A. Sedgwick
    July 10, 2009

    Many historians and a growing number of commentators regard this eight year war as unwinnable, the country as ungovernable and consequently ask why are we losing some of our best young people. The PMQs condolences are sickening and so hypercritical.

    I very much doubt that “most people in the UK”want us in that country.

    The security effort should be made in protecting our own borders, deporting all terrorist suspects and foreign prisoners and identifying misguided UK nationals.

    It is disappointing that such a clear thinker as yourself cannot get to grips with the fact that we stopped being a world power in 1945.

    reply: I am proposing a strategy to get out!

  4. Demetrius
    July 10, 2009

    Sir John Nott put out a book “Haven’t We Been Here Before?” dealing with Afganistan in 2007. In the 1840’s his distinguished ancestor, Sir William Nott, made his reputation by his handling of an Afghan crisis. Sir John has a deep knowledge of our history in various campaigns in the region. What a pity that nobody thought to give him a call before we were committed to this theatre of war yet again. They might well have learned a great deal.

  5. Cardinal Richelieu's mole
    July 10, 2009

    For far too long British Foreign policy has involved pulling others chestnuts out of the fire. This was mostly tolerable when we did not expect anything in return beyond some opprobrium from our enemies. When Blair, whose proclivity for glorying in wars is astonishing, started to expect gratitude from those whose chestnuts were pulled, things started to go wrong. Even worse, Blair did not seem to know the rule that says never, ever involve yourself in a war with the Americans for typically they have no idea beyond superior firepower. (It is ok to allow them to join your wars, never the other way around. Even H. Wilson knew this! – and hence one of his greatest achievements was keeping us out of Vietnam.)

    This Afghan business is an American adventure, an adjunct to the unnecessary war in Iraq, and worse one inspired by Bush policy. Our best approach is to render every assistance short of actual help. For now, it is costing us too much in money, in credibility (including with the Americans), and fuels the disconnect between the people and our armed forces. With diplomatic skill (way beyond Miliband’s capability, granted), we can have most of the rewards and none of the cost. Obama should be old our national bankruptcy and the fact we have done our bit (in contrast to other allies) means alas for us the war is over.

  6. Victor, NW Kent
    July 10, 2009

    The trouble is, John, that the public at large have lost the appetite for this war.

    Casualties are now daily, the government lies about equipment quality and equipment levels, it is a war we cannot win.

    Those who say that we must remain until the job is finished are unrealistic. The job will never be finished and the Bush/Blair grand experiment in democratic engineering has failed.

    There is no exit strategy except retreat.

    Let the USA and some reticent NATO allies take the brunt. Do we know of any French, German, Belgian, Spanish or Italian fighting troops over there? What do our friends in the EU contribute? Offhand I can only recall fighting troops from Canada, Georgia, Estonia and Poland apart from ourselves an America.

    1. a-tracy
      July 10, 2009

      I was going to ask the same question, do you know how many fighters from the other European nations that make up the EU are there?

  7. Josh
    July 10, 2009

    We shouldn’t be in there, but admitting that means the politicians will have bruised ego’s, and they can’t be having that can they?

    No army has successfully invaded Afghanistan. Alexander the Great tried. The Soviets tried and failed miserably. You can’t defeat an ideology.

    1. Stuart Fairney
      July 10, 2009

      To say nothing of our own 1842 exit, our 1880 exit, our our 1919 exit from the God-forsaken place.

      From the comfort of middle age and no likelihood of a call-up of men my age, I can say, how much more folly must out young men suffer.

  8. Stuart Fairney
    July 10, 2009

    Can someone tell me when we will have “Won” in Afghanistan? What are the conditions we need achieve to have won?

    Or is this a police operation that continues until we stop. The argument that we need to be there to stop the ferment of terrorism is risbly stupid. Should we not also be in Pakistan then as well as Saudi Arabia and half a dozen other countries as well as deploying the army in Sheffield, Bradford and other Northern cities? Terror can ‘ferment’ anywhere.

    As for the fact girls are now in school, if you are worried about female education you might want to cast an eye to Saudi Arabia? Women can’t take subjects such as engineering, journalism, and architecture and aren’t allowed to practice law.

    Brave men being sent under-equipped to their pointless deaths by much much lesser men in the government. It breaks my heart. And the endless expressions of sympathy from Mr Brown are stomach churning!

  9. oldrightie
    July 10, 2009

    The disgusting issue over this war is the laissez faire attitude of our Government. Why are they junketing and grandstanding all over the place whilst our soldiers are dying almost daily. Why does no one publish casualty figures frequently? Why do we and The Yanks not push to place UN forces here? It is sheer madness and these fatalities and terrible, maiming wounds are happening to all sides in a conflict going nowhere but where The Russian involvement went. Such lunacy.

  10. Mark, Edinburgh
    July 10, 2009

    The key point is surely “is it winnable” (define)?

    I can’t see the nature of Afghanistani society being changed fundamentally. This is largely a function of geography as well as religion – there will always be local power bosses in remote valleys and its unlikely the drugs trade can ever be eradicated because the primary occupation will always be agriculture.

    So any” win” in my view can at most be having a number of warloads in place who don’t treat their own people too badly, who are only moderately corrupt and restrict involment in the drugs trade to tolerable levels. They will also need to establish a stable clan succesion structure on say the Lebanese model to avoid the need for continued intervention?

    Of course this is from an “armchair” – I’m no expert. Presumably we are now growing a new body of Afghan experts in the various agencies?

    But if my surmise is correct and the “win” is simply to keep a lid on things, then the obvious alternative strategy is a “cordon sanitaire” – after all this was the policy until the Amercans understandably wanted to get their hands on key terrorist individuals. It was also the British approach 1900 – 1939.

    Ironically technical progress means cordon sanitaire is much more practical now than in the days of Bristol fighters.

    The difficulty for Cordon Sanitaire is presumably the Iranian frontier now Pakistan seems to have come on board?

    1. Stuart Fairney
      July 11, 2009

      The Iranians are no friends of the Americans for sure, but don’t imagine the Shia dominated Irainians will have any truck with the Sunni Taliban, especially the Saudi Wahhabi strain.

      1. SJB
        July 12, 2009

        When Mazari Sharif fell to the Taliban in 1998 they laid siege to the Iranian consulate and killed some of their diplomats.

        Confirmation of Stuart’s point about religious differences between the Sunni and Shi’a can be seen in the Taliban governor’s reported remarks: “Hazaras are not Muslim, they are Shi’a. They are kofr [infidels]. The Hazaras killed our force here, and now we have to kill Hazaras.”

        1. Stuart Fairney
          July 12, 2009

          Quite so, my good lady, an Iranian by birth, has a few choice words (so as not to be moderated out, suffice to say they would make a merchant seaman blush!) to say about the Taliban

  11. Neil Craig
    July 10, 2009

    Except if you get very large numbers I’m not sure that more troops is that useful in a geurilla campaign. To some extent you are giving the other side more targets. I think more technology would be better – more helicopters, robotic devices able to check out roadside stuff, remotely piloted surveillance craft (at say 20,000 feet an RPV can cover about 16 sq miles – a few hundred of them, with infra red capacity kept 24/7 over the Pathan areas would be beyond price), satellites & well collated local intelligence.

    I’m also not sure “people in the UK are united in thinking it would be good to bring peace and greater prosperity to Afghanistan” nor should they be. This is mission creep – we went there to get rid of people who were threatening us. If the best way of doing that also brings peace & propspertiy to Afghanistan that is good but it should not be the reason we are there.

  12. Adrian Peirson
    July 10, 2009

    The reason for war Was Sexed up.

    Our soldiers are fighting and Dying not for Queen and Country but for the New World Order and the Military Industrial Complex.

    Architects and Engineers

    Thermite found at world Trade Centre.

  13. chris southern
    July 10, 2009

    We didn’t send in the numbers needed, we didn’t send the required equipment neccesary for the role needed.
    We didn’t have a well thought out strategy that involved a withdrawal within the overall plan.

    It was fubar from the word go.

    The lads on the ground are doing the best they can, punching well above their weight as normal. Their is only so long that they can do that though.

    If goverments stop wasting the defence budget on equipment not desighned for what our forces need (and fighting the last war is never going to work) then our lads will have the equipment they need.
    Maybe the MOD should study historical tactics, not just the over all tactics used, but how tactics have evolved with technology and the enviroments (different tactics for different regions)

  14. Adam Collyer
    July 10, 2009

    History tells us that we are on a hiding to nothing here. We have been here before ourselves of course, and the Russians spilled the blood of many of their best young men doing basically exactly what we are doing now. (At that time of course we and the Americans were funding and arming the fundamentalists that we are now fighting against. Maybe we should have tried to support the Kabul government then instead of standing back and watching it fall and its leader get murdered by the fundamentalists.)

    Afghanistan is culturally, economically and geographically ungovernable. As you say, John, the issue is not whether our troops are brave and skilled, nor even whether the aim is a good one, but whether and how the aim can really be achieved. In my judgement it cannot, and the sooner we get out, the better.

    In time the Americans will also come to understand that they can no longer afford such adventures either financially or politically. The world is about to change in a big way. But Afghanistan won’t change in the next 100 years.

    1. Number 6
      July 10, 2009

      I agree with you the atavastic religion and tribal blood fued system that holds sway in Afghanistan will never be toppled with military might, no matter how many tanks, planes and brave troops we send.

      Roads built by us will be used to ferry opium more speedily, just as chemical fertiliser supplied by trans-national agencies and charities is used to build road side bombs. Schools for girls, will be burned down and maybe the girls with them, as the creed does not regard women as more than a mere chattal, in short all of those brave men and women will have died or been maimed for no gain at all.

      We found Afghanistan a cesspit of hate, malovolent supression toward women and ruled by atavastic warlords. That is how we will leave it.

      It makes me weep.

  15. Dr Dan H.
    July 10, 2009

    I’d say here that the basic problem here is one that we ourselves have generated and are busily perpetuating. Afganistan is a poor country; a dry, desolate place without much in the way of natural resources or good agricultural land and about the only thing that does well there is opium poppy. There is a good market for opium in the West, because of our obsession with being authoritarian control freaks and banning things.

    So, what happens is that poor farmers grow opium and earn about five times what they might with anything else. The Taliban collect raw opium, process it to heroin and shift it onwards earning themselves a hefty middleman profit as they do so. Smugglers take it further until the heroin hits our streets and is eagerly consumed by the hordes of drug addicts there, who also hurt us financially by the crime they commit to pay for the heroin.

    The way to stop this is by treating the addicts in this country, either by supplying them with heroin, or with one of the opiate substitutes. Opiates have been around a long time, and are well researched; there is even one which is both an agonist and an antagonist at the same time; give someone high on heroin a dose and they come down with a bump, but give an addict in withdrawal a dose, and they’re happy again, but unable to supplement the dose with street heroin.

    Put simply, if we stopped persecuting addicts and instead treated them with substances like this agonist/antagonist drug, then the market for heroin would collapse and attention could be concentrated onto dealers in the absence of the continual low-level hassle from addicts. There is also a misconception at work here that our police service is somehow not functioning properly; it is functioning but is simply swamped at present.

    More particularly, if we clobber the consumption end of the chain, then the money feeding back through the distribution chain would collapse too and the Taliban would revert to being merely strange bearded loonies with next to no influence in Afganistan.

    1. SJB
      July 10, 2009

      Is it the Taliban, though? In July 2000, their supreme leader ordered a total ban on opium poppy production. The success of the measure can be seen in the UN World Drug Report which shows that cultivation of opium poppy dropped from 82,171 hectares in 2000 to just 7,606 hectares in 2001 (see Table 1, p34; p40 of the pdf). The most recent figure is 157,000.
      Apparently two thirds of the poppy production occurs in the Helmand province (p10).

  16. backofanenvelope
    July 10, 2009

    This is a silly war in a silly place. It is also the only sort of war the Afghans can fight. We should think of something else; get out, and do it. We might, for instance, withdraw from the Islamic world and stop importing Muslims into this country. We might adopt a maritime policy and concentrate on controlling the seas.

    I might also point out that the purposes of our most successful military alliance, NATO, have been perverted.

  17. Bernard Palmer
    July 10, 2009

    I noticed you keep my contributions in limbo until the article is stale and probably none will see it. This reveals to me that you are either an accomplished politician or unevenly discriminatory with your posters which is your right. This is your bat and ball we are playing with. I wonder to how many others you use this tacit on where we have to wait 3-4 days for it to be included in the discussion. Why do you feel you need to moderate? If you become Prime Minister would this form of censorship be continued?

    “It is disappointing that such a clear thinker as yourself cannot get to grips with the fact that we stopped being a world power in 1945.”

    “reply: I am proposing a strategy to get out!”

    Oh really. If so why even ask these questions.

    “The central issue is can we achieve all that we would like?”

    Reply: I delay posting items which are long and may have to be edited. I post anything straightforward and short asap. I do not stop people disagreeing with me.
    I think you are failing to understand what I am saying about Afghanistan. I did not want us to enter this war in the first place.

    Never in a million years. Wake up.

    “What will the cost be in lives lost and injuries sustained?”

    If you want to keep trying it will cost you the lives of every soldier there. Ask the Russians and they didn’t mind killing anything that moved that wasn’t obviously Russian.

    “For how long will the legitimate civilian power in that country want foreign troops to help it?”

    The illegitimate experimental Afghani government is doomed to failure once the US dollar crashes probably sometime next year.

    “What is the exit strategy?”

    Run for your lives would be sufficient.

    On your other musings;

    “or who keep open a school that allows young women to be educated,”

    Excerpt from ‘What is the Primary Fundamental Right?’

    “Ironically extended female education results in fewer future tax payers being produced, the death knell for the profit absorbing Socialism Democracies.”

    Afghanistan has a birth-rate between 6 and 7 children per mother. Afghanis love their children and their freedoms. Under American/British rules they would have to embrace Socialism which would result in a major loss of both as has happened in both those countries. The Taliban is probably a transcient reaction to continual interference by other nations.

  18. Bill
    July 10, 2009

    As it’s a NATO war I suppose that’s its politically difficult to pull out of.

    You just get the impression that the government are doing a holding operation. They certainly don’t portray clear objectives or time scales to the public and I don’t think it’s a big issue with the public unfortunately.
    So there is little pressure on the government from the electorate.
    The war has been going on now for longer than WW 2. In my view if it really is so important to our national security then we should pour resources into concluding it, to arrive at our objectives. (But that’s not going to happen and it may be beyond our capabilities)
    Or look to withdraw.
    Can anyone really believe that NATO’s involvement there will result in an independent, cohesive, pro western, sort of democratic, Afghanistan?
    The Tories should be asking the same questions as Nick Clegg.

  19. backofanenvelope
    July 10, 2009

    I would think Mr Redwood that you could safely say most of us writing here are against the war in Afghanistan. Most of us want out. If you read any online blog or the letters pages of the press, you will get the same message. When some general popped up at Wootton Bassett the other day and said it was a worthwhile war, no one in the onlookers agreed with him. All supported the troops – not the war. You Tories should just label it Brown’s War and announce we are leaving.

  20. Mike Stallard
    July 10, 2009

    Well, I’m an expert on Afghanistan because I have read the “Kite Runner” from cover to cover.
    Also, I have seen the “Little bugle boys” in Leeds Art Gallery. There they are blowing their bugles for all they are worth in the Afghan highlands while the British Army marches, in white pith helmets, far below their mountain fastness, to their deaths.

    Exit Strategy: Out of the question. The Americans hold all the trumps (airborne artillery of all types, helicopters, communications, strategic command, relations with the President). If we just walk away (as I think we should) the Americans will not be our Besfrens.
    That would leave us with the wimps and surrender monkeys from Europe to protect us from Russia, who has buzzed our airspace now quite a lot in the last two years.
    And, of course, we are now broke.
    So that means a lot more dead/wounded soldiers, I am afraid. The Minister, for once, was right.

    1. backofanenvelope
      July 10, 2009

      You really shouldn’t worry about the Russians buzzing our airspace. They have a couple of dozen long range aircraft that were clapped out 20 years ago.



  21. Grant Keely
    July 10, 2009

    This is the worst post I have read on this site. I had regarded it as something of an oasis of reason but to put forward similar arguments to those used in the USA when their politicians wanted to reinforce their troops in Vietnam is just too much. We are involved in an illegal, immoral war that cannot benefit Britain in any way and results in the occupation of another country and the deaths of their citizens. This means that our troops are no different to other armies that invade and conquer in the name of “freedom”. The USA in Vietnam, USSR in Afghanistan and plenty of other even less flattering comparisons. Our troops will not need all this killing machinery if they are stationed in the UK as a defending service which I thought was what they are supposed to be. It is the Ministry of Defence not the Ministry of Imperialism. What is it with politicians? Do you get some sort of kick out of war? If so why not go and fight yourselves?

  22. catosays
    July 10, 2009

    In the meantime, as I have posted on my blog, it might be nice if a politician made his or her way to Wootton Bassett and paid their respects to our fallen soldiers. After all, it’s only once or twice a week…at the moment.

    If Brown or Ainsworth can’t be bothered then perhaps Cameron or the shadow defence minister (whoever he might be) could.

  23. figurewizard
    July 10, 2009

    There is no such thing as an exit route in war without victory but as the news tonight that eight more of our brave young soldiers have been killed in a single day emphasises, this requires all of the tools to do the job.

    An example of how this was done in the past was during D Day and beyond. Then our troops had constant support from the ‘cab rank’ system supplied by Mustangs and Typhoons. These linked to air support officers on the ground accompanying our troops advancing on the enemy. A squadron was always above; ready to both report enemy positions and engage. As they needed to refuel they were immediately replaced by another.

    These days this role should be performed by helicopter gunships but for our troops in Afghanistan they are in pitifully short supply. Mike Stallard rightly points out that we are broke today but we were just as broke in 1944.

  24. Stewart Knight
    July 10, 2009

    The road transport issue is a true red herring; most real soldiers will tell you that.

    There was once a wonderful, but expensive piece of equipment designated ECM, Electronic Counter Measure. If you have a command wire to a roadside bomb it needs an electric source, so therefore gives off a radio signal, and this signal can be detected by ECM equipment. The same for a bomb which is detonated by radio control; there needs to be a receiver. This ECM kit is decades old and is now sophisticated. The problem is that it is not effective while in vehicles, so why are we in vehicles? Simple, because we have too few men on the ground.

    So we don’t have enough ECM equipment for the patrols on foot that may keep them safe, and we don’t have enough men to patrol on foot to make use of the ECM equipment we don’t have, and we have no vehicles that are effective while we swan about kidding ourselves that we are fighting a winnable battle.

    We need more men, more air support, and more equipment. NOT more vehicles. The Government WANT you to think we need more vehicles and that is the answer because they can be sourced easily and cheaply, relatively speaking, but it is a false promise made by people incapable of understanding the situation.

    Why do you think they got rid of Dannat and Jackson?

  25. Neil Craig
    July 11, 2009

    There is a fair argument for admiting being beaten in Afghanistan. There is no possible honourable argument for anybody who has not been far louder in opposing our wars against Yugoslavia to ever claim any morality in saying we should leave. The war against the taliban is perfectly legal defenceive action in which we probably are actually improving people’s lives. It can never, under any circumstances be compared to wars fought purely to assist people with a record as drug dealers, sex slavers & unrepentent supporters of Hitler to carry out atrocities which, though unreported by our “free” media match & in al least 1 way exceed those of Hitler.

  26. Adrian Peirson
    July 12, 2009

    Kick the door in Generals, I reckon you’d have the support of AT LEAST 2 Million able bodied.

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