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A question, or two, in time…

By ATWadmin On December 7th, 2006

Watched part of Question Time on al-Beeb, and for the first time in a very long time, heard a politician, and what is more a Conservative politician, talk sense while speaking about the war in Afghanistan! David Davis was speaking in resonse to a question about the conduct of the war, with British troops fighting against the Taliban and the vested interests of the Heroin warlords which hover in the background, and he made some hard and truthful points. He asked ‘What is a ‘Win’ in Afghanistan?’ No one, to my certain knowledge, has ever satisfactorily answered that question! He asked why British Servicemen and women were sent into one of the most dangerous places on this planet with personal armour which didn’t work, bullets which didn’t fire, vehicles which were unarmoured and totally insuitable for the work and the terrain, a singular dearth of helicopters which were imperative for daily operations, and on down the line! It wasn’t that we hadn’t read it all before, we had, but it is possibly the first time any politician has poked his head above the parapet and stated exactly what is what about our operations in that singularly god-forsaken stretch of the Hindu Kush!

Don’t get me wrong, I believe that we should be there, but well-armed, well-prepared, and above all else, well-equpped!

Unfortunately, the statement should be made truthfully, we might be there, but we are not well-prepared, not well-armed, and definitely not well-equipped!

10 Responses to “A question, or two, in time…”

  1. I think a fair question would be ‘why are we there at all?’
    The reason appears to be a mixture of intelligence failure and a woeful lack of historical knowledge.

    Pre 9/11, Afghanistan was just another rubbish country with a ghastly regime. Post 9/11, which itself was largely the result of spectacular intelligence failures, Dubya had to be seen to be hitting somebody hard, so whilst quietly ignoring the fact that most of the 9/11 hijackers were Saudis, he marched into Afghanistan to topple the Taliban, who were apparently sheltering Bin Laden.

    Five years on and no trace of Bin Laden has been found, the Taliban ideology is making a strong comeback, heroin production is higher than ever and suicide bombings, previously unknown in Afghanistan, are now a regular occurence.
    We’re constantly told that ‘we must win’ in Afghanistan because it could become a terrorist training camp and a rogue state.

    Meanwhile Iraq, which we’re apparently planning to abandon, looks set to become a terrorist training camp and a rogue state.

    Had 9/11 not occurred, Afghanistan would still be a rubbish country with a ghastly regime, and Iraq would still have a brutal, if largely bottled up, dictatorship.

    So one largely opportunistic and fiendishly simple terrorist attack has resulted in US and British troops embedded in an Afghan quagmire whilst attempting to extricate themselves from the debacle in Iraq.

    Had Bush & Blair glanced at their history books, they would have noted the fates which befell previous invaders of Afghanistan in the mid 19th and late 20th centuries. The Soviets were driven out despite having troop numbers greatly in excess of current allied forces.

    So as Davis says, what is ‘a win’ in Afghanistan? The simple answer is that there isn’t one.
    Iraq has proved immune to attempts at democracy and as the Palestinians recently demonstrated, democracy doesn’t always come up with the ‘right’ result. There’s no reason to suppose that the Afghans will suddenly embrace a western-style democracy, and the longer allied forces stay, the more they will be resented.

    Allied occupation has failed to dent the flow of drugs to the west and whilst mercifully few international terrorist atrocities have occurred since 9/11, it seems somewhat fatuous to assume that this is a direct result of the occupation of Afghanistan.

    So other than a loss of face, what precise reason is there for the British and US occupation to continue?

  2. Good post, Mike, and interesting response, H.A.
    The US-led wars in Afghan and then Iraq, to my mind, seem to be merely the opening battlefronts in a long-term strategy. What the overall goals of that strategy are, though, I have to say straight out, I don’t know. As civilians, we can only guess at these things, as they are military secrets.
    Afghan: This country seems to be of strategic importance to the major powers. Russia has tried and failed to control it before. Now it looks like the US/coalition is also struggling to control it. Our conventional approach to warfare seems to be no match for the local Al-Q affiliated guerillas who know the terrain. Having our hands tied behind our backs due to our "politically correct" "nicely nicely" terms of engagement probably isn’t helping either. War is supposed to be war, there’s nothing "nice" or "Queensby Rules, old chap" about it. The enemy knows this intrinsically, whereas we fool ourselves into thinking we must "not reduce ourselves to their level and give the enemy the moral high ground" by fighting dirty. Rubbish. You fight a war to win it, otherwise you shouldn’t bother at all. But I digress. The state of our equipment and kit is appalling. I don’t know who is to blame for this. Politicians, most likely.

    Iraq: The way I see it, the invasion of Iraq was planned, confirmed as US policy and prepared for ever since 1990. The establishment of the no-fly-zones, and the ever-increasing bombardment of Iraq’s air defences from around 1996 onwards seems to prove that. This was not only "Bush and Blair’s War", I think it is unfair to label them as the sole instigators. Remember, Clinton also launched several sustained periods of bombing in Iraq, in order to further degrade Iraq’s defences.
    I think that the decision to topple Hussein’s regime was in itself a good one. However, the US failed to forecast and make plans to effectively deal with the insurrections that would follow. Even so, I think that the US/coalition is not too bothered about that, because the real long-term target is neither Afghan nor Iraq, but Iran. The US has always (well, from 1979 onwards at any rate), viewed Iran as the most dangerous regime in the Middle East. This is why the US supported and armed Hussein’s Iraq during the 1980-1988 Iran/Iraq war. Not because the US liked Hussein’s regime, but because it hoped that Saddam would win the war and topple Iran’s regime.
    A huge mountainous country, in order to topple the Iranian regime using only conventional forces, the US would need vast numbers of bases all around the region. And now, they have bases in Iraq on one side, Afghan on the other, and already-existing bases in other surrounding countries. Iran is almost completely surrounded by the US military. I think that’s where the next battlefield is going to be.

  3. "suicide bombings, previously unknown in Afghanistan, are now a regular occurence."

    It isn’t true that suicide bombings did not occur in Afghanistan prior to the invasion. On September 9th 2001 Al Qaida assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the military commander of the Northern Alliance, by suicide bomb. The proximity to 9/11 was probably not coincidental.

    The Afghan occupation is by no means perfect but it is hardly a failiure, Al Qaida no longer have a place to operate without harassment and a relatively benign government controls a large chunk of the country.

  4. Regional stability.

  5. At the same time as better weapons, some British support wouldnt go amiss. If we dont get behind the troops and stop undermining our position there then it is as bad as not arming them properly. If not worse. And Ross is absolutely right. So what – westerners only deserve stability, democracy and a chance to thrive? Amongst western nations that battled and battled for centuries (Europe) we eventually worked out that enlightened values hand in hand with elected government = relative peace by the standars of what has gone on before us. If we want to extend that outwards then we will have to roll up our sleevs and get stuck in. It is isnt going to happen in our lifetimes so were going to have to get behind it for some time to come. Simply because we are enjoying peace doesnt mean that the West didnt spend a lrage portion of its time in centuries gone by waging war with one another.

  6. Alison your sentiments on democracy are noble but flawed. It’s often stated that democracy and Islam are not compatible and indeed some far right Christian fundamentalists in the US would also suggest that God’s law and democracy do not make good bedfellows. In Islamic nations, the populace tend to heed the advice of their local mullah when asked to vote and such notions as equality, human rights and free speech don’t tend to fit into Allah’s plan.

    The likes of the UK would do well to remember what a tender plant democracy actually is. With UK voter numbers in freefall, there is a real future possibility of an extremist party making big strides at the polls. The Chinese juggernaut on the horizon is not a democratic one — the men at the top are happy to massacre their own students for daring to dissent. In this climate, the notion of pushing democracy onto populaces who regard themselves as being run by God is foolhardy.

    Tom:

    Your idea of ‘taking the gloves off’ in Afghanistan ignores the fact that the Soviet occupation of the 1980s had no such qualms about human rights and considerably more personnel and equipment, but they left defeated nevertheless, and gave the likes of Bin Laden valuable experience in guerilla warfare.

    We’re constantly told that Iraq and Afghanistan will; become terrorist training camps if we leave. The obvious question is why would they need them? The terrorist atrocities such as Madrid, 7/7, Bali and 9/11 were carried out by fanatical suicide bombers on a shoestring budget. Other than flight school training in the case of 9/11, little or no training was required. The Provos ably demonstrated how to carry on a protracted terrorist campaign, despite being riddled with informers, operating in a very small arena and being constrained by the need to limit civilian casualties. Did they need a huge country to train in?

    Other than a huge loss of face, will the US and the UK really lose anything by a phased withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan? (and make no mistake that IS what they will do). Israel spent 22 years building up local security forces in Lebanon prior to their withdrawal. Those forces were routed in a matter of days. Again I ask, what are we doing there?

    If your assumption regarding Iran is correct, then the whole thing has been a spectacular failure.

    My own opinion is that the Afghan invasion was a knee jerk reaction to 9/11 and that the atrocity was used as an excuse to go into Iraq, something which Bush had been itching to do. Having battered down the front door, he had no clue as to what to do next, with predictable results. A complete failure of intelligence on 9/11 and later WMD was compounded by a lamentable lack of knowledge on the Islamic mindset.

    The two campaigns demonstrate beyond all doubt that whilst a massive military assault can quickly overthrow a brutal dictatorship, sorting the subsequent situation into a form amenable to the victor is an entirely different matter.

  7. When the politicians etc talk about ‘reconstruction’ with respect to Afghanistan, I wasn’t aware that there was ever anything to be re-constructed. Afghanistan is, was and always has been a undeveloped land because it is inhabited by people who are incapable of progressing. If that were not so, then there would be something worth re-constructing.

  8. <Q>Afghanistan is, was and always has been a undeveloped land because it is inhabited by people who are incapable of progressing</Q>

    A tad unfair – it’s hard to progress when your country is a battlefield. Afghanistan has been fought in or fought over since the days of Alexander the great though to the Russian Invasion and beyond.

  9. Hi HA

    I enjoy reading your comments and do see some sense in what you say. Many young men died from being noble and believing in a flawed democracy in WW2. As did many civilians. But honestly i think being noble but flawed is all i have to cling on to in a very very scary and unbalanced world. Democracy is flawed as you go on to detail – so im arguing from a flawed premise in that regard already – a tad unfair ;). It is far from perfect. Agreed.

    >>It’s often stated that democracy and Islam are not compatible and indeed some far right Christian fundamentalists in the US would also suggest that God’s law and democracy do not make good bedfellows. In Islamic nations, the populace tend to heed the advice of their local mullah when asked to vote and such notions as equality, human rights and free speech don’t tend to fit into Allah’s plan.

    On Sunday I watched a programme about our soldiers in Afghanistan and they were debating and negotiating with those very locals. Their basic and most inherent need was for stability. They were prepared to support whoever appeared to be winning for no other reason than that they are so desperate. So. It stands to a degree of reason that if we establish that stability and in so doing prove that democracy = stability to a greater or lesser degree then it is entirely possible to succeed there.

    Re yr other point – Im pretty sure women in the west by and large voted when they got the vote in line with their husbands. But over time and as democracy got stronger this changed.

    >>>The likes of the UK would do well to remember what a tender plant democracy actually is. With UK voter numbers in freefall, there is a real future possibility of an extremist party making big strides at the polls. The Chinese juggernaut on the horizon is not a democratic one — the men at the top are happy to massacre their own students for daring to dissent. In this climate, the notion of pushing democracy onto populaces who regard themselves as being run by God is foolhardy.

    then what do you suggest? Our own democracy and understanding is changing, agreed – so we dont establish what is described as the best of the worst of all forms of government? Yes we also need to challenge the way our own democracy is developing which is why i see e-democracy as a force for good. People recognise it. By extremist – we already have extremist parties in power – Respect and the BNP. So yes we need to address that here.

    The one does not cancel out the need for the other though. Moderate voices can only gain a foothold and establish reform when they get a chance to do so. They have much more of a chance within a proper democratic system. Of course that will take time also. Even as it stands the afghan government is far from perfect. But to see women up there voicing change and challenging what IS wrong is a massive start. My feeling is that it will be women who will play a big part in bringing change to the middle east.

  10. Alison

    If there is one thing I’ve learnt since 9/11, it’s the incredible obsession that many Muslims have with their religion. Your example of women voting with their husbands is a valid one, but whilst the last 50 years has seen long overdue independence for western women, there has been no such move away from the power of the mullah in Islamic countries. Put simply, these people are not taught to think or reason for themselves — in matters pertaining to God (which is pretty much everything in Islam), they are told what to think and that is unlikely to change in the forseeable future.
    Adding democracy to this mix merely rubberstamps and legitamises the election of hardliners and future dictatorships.
    Groups such as Hamas and indeed our very own bunch of Marxists Sinn Fein are happy to exploit the ballot box in a cynical fashion to gain power.
    My personal opinion is that democracy is useless in a theocracy.