Friday, July 17, 2009

House Points: What are British troops doing in Afghanistan?

My House Points column from today's Liberal Democrat News.

Afghan recap

House Points has been going for so long that, while writing a column, I sometimes have the feeling that I have written it before. I’m sure you often have that feeling when you read them. But then there are a lot of subjects on which this government has made little progress over the past 10 years.

Take Afghanistan. Back in March 2006, just as Ming Campbell was being elected Liberal Democrat leader, I questioned what exactly our troops were doing there. The then defence secretary John Reid, I reported, had described their task as “establishing democracy, ending terrorism, achieving security in the south of Afghanistan, helping the Afghan economy and dealing with poppy destruction”.

He didn’t, I pointed out with mordant sarcasm, say what they would be doing after lunch.

Three and a half years on, the confusion over the purpose of the British presence remains. As Nick Clegg put it in the Commons on Monday, “For the past eight years, the Government have been sending mixed signals about the nature and purpose of the deployment. In the past week we have had the Prime Minister and the Defence Secretary giving different justifications for the war.”

Perhaps we now hear less about our hopes of establishing a Western liberal democracy in Afghanistan – ministers used to make the British Army sound like the Islington Labour Party under arms – and more of the claim that our troops out there are defending Britain.

But it is that claim right? What Islamist terror we have seen in Britain has been homegrown – almost homemade, in fact, though no less deadly for that – and it is arguable that our entanglements abroad in recent years have made us more vulnerable, not safer.

Nick Clegg’s remark that the Government’s strategy has been over-ambitious in aim and under-resourced in practice was widely reported. Paddy Ashdown used the same line in the Lords on Monday, but went on say more.

Paddy said we have learnt that through bitter experience that unless the international community can act to a single plan and speak with a single voice, we will not succeed somewhere like Afghanistan.

Unless everyone learns that lesson, I fear someone will be writing a column very like this one years from now.

1 comment:

Unknown said...


The strategic aim of Britain in joining the US in the Afghan campaign is to prevent large scale attacks against the west being planned in Taliban controlled Afghanistan. It is right to an extent. But many in the west don't seem to understand that even though Britain and the US are the main targets of the terrorists other European countries are also targets(although to a lesser extent). The contribution of Nato countries other than the US and Britain has been very less.

To win the war in Afghanistan you need numbers. Without numbers it is very difficult to fight a war in a difficult area like Afghanistan. India offered one hundred thousand troops to fight in Afghanistan during the initial phase of the war. But the US and Britain declined the offer to keep their so called ally Pakistan in good humor (but the US requested India's help in Iraq, a war for oil which India did not support). Now the Taliban have spread like cancer all along the Pakistan-Afghanistan area. It is going to be a tough war, be prepared for a long haul or a retreat that you will have to regret later.