The Afghan debacle
Gordon Brown claims that recent fighting at Musa Qala is a turning point in the six-year war against the Taleban in Afghanistan. The truth is that British and NATO operations in the country have been an unmitigated debacle and a suicide mission for many of the troops involved.
Even Brown’s allies in the “war against terror” - the justification for invading Afghanistan in the first place - don’t necessarily share the prime minister’s confidence. The Bush adminstration and NATO have just launched three major reviews of the entire Afghan mission, ranging from security and counter-terrorism to political and economic development. The New York Times says that the reviews are an admission that earlier successes in fighting the Taleban and Al Qaeda forces may have evaporated.
This has been the most violent year since the invasion of 2001. One senior NATO diplomat has admitted that “now we have significant issues with certain areas producing opium and the Taleban coming back in certain parts of the country, as well”. In addition, the allies are less than complimentary about each other: “The Germans, the Spanish, the Italians don’t send any troops to the south except for 250 troops by Germany,” said Representative Joe Sestak. A retired three-star admiral, Sestak complained that some allies “refuse to do combat ops at night and some don’t fly when the first snowflake falls”.
The balance sheet is as follows:
- a six year-occupation by NATO forces
- 40,000 troops, plus 12,000 other US troops conducting “counter- terrorism” operations
- illegal imprisonment of innocent people at Guantanamo
- billions spent on military operations
- £18 billions spent on NGOs
- high altitude bombing which has killed countless villagers
- a suicide mission in Helmand – dubbed “Hell-land” by British troops – with £1bn being spent on a new base there
- a resurgent Taleban roaming freely through most parts of the country outside Kabul.
And what has all this meant for the people of Afghanistan? Here is what Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner, which opens as a film next week) found when he returned to his hometown Kabul for the first time in 30 years. The capital, home to some three million people, is nothing less than a disaster area. The poverty and disarray in many areas was, in Hosseini’s words, “unspeakable”.
While visiting the grave of a popular Afghan singer, he was “mobbed again by burqa-clad women and barefoot children, their hair matted with dirt, faces oozing with sores, their teeth rotting already, begging for baksheesh [alms].” A Kabul policeman complained to him about the millions in aid given to the NGOs who spent it on fancy cars, offices and guesthouses.
Whilst the NATO occupation of Afghanistan cannot be blamed entirely for the destruction of what was once a beautiful country and capital city – the Soviet invasion and the Taleban are also responsible - it is certain that six years of occupation and war by mainly US and British forces have taken the country further down the road to hell.
So what exactly is the purpose of this mission, if it cannot succeed? As British forces withdraw from Basra, openly admitting to television cameras, that to remain in Iraq would only unite people against them, Brown badly needs to point to success in Afghanistan as his grip on the economy is seen to falter. It is a heavy price to pay for enhancing the tarnished image of a British Prime Minister.
18 December 2008