Sunday, 6 September 2009

Spinning the war in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan is fast running up the UK political flagpole. A succession of British ex-army generals are making noises that the army wants out, and now, Eric Joyce a ministerial aid, has quit the government over the way the war is being justified.

The recent Afghan elections are subject to loud claims of fraud from opposition parties, whilst we continue to prop up the corrupt government of President Karzai and a collection of narco barons.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown talks deluded nonsense about ‘our aims being realistic and achievable’, but what are these aims?

The first justification to be trotted out is that by fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, we are stopping terrorism visiting the streets of the UK. This is verging on risible. There has not been a single link to Afghanistan with terrorism in this country. Meanwhile, opinion polls say that two thirds of the British public are against our involvement in this eight year long occupation, so few seem to be convinced by this argument.

The second justification for this occupation, is that we can stop opium growing in Afghanistan, and so reduce the supply of heroin onto our streets. It is true that opium growing has reduced this year, but this is mainly due to the rising price of wheat, making it an attractive alternative crop. The price of wheat will fall again, and so too, the price of heroin will rise, the presence of the British army has little to do with the situation. The Taliban did manage to almost completely wipe out heroin production in Afghanistan before the US/UK et al invasion, albeit by brutal means, but foreign armies actually increase the attraction of growing this crop, as has been seen since 2001.

A recent British army operation, dramatically entitled ‘Panther’s Claw’, saw around 3000 British troops clear an area the size of the Isle of Wight of 500 Taliban fighters over a couple months. In the process, a dozen British soldiers were killed and getting on for a hundred wounded. Of course, as soon as the British withdraw in substantial numbers to fight in another area, the Taliban will return.

The truth of the matter is, that we have got ourselves involved in a civil war in Afghanistan, rather reminiscent of Vietnam, with no doubt the same abject defeat for the invaders, in the long run. The Russians, with hundreds of thousands of troops, were unable to quell Afghan resistance in the 1980’s (although we did supply the resistance with as much weaponry as they could use). The British army also failed in the nineteenth century to occupy this country, have we learnt nothing from history?

The sooner the US cuts a deal with the Taliban, the sooner we can bring some resolution to the conflict in Afghanistan. The British government should tell the Americans that this is the case, and announce plans for the withdrawal of our forces. I don’t think that the British public will put up with the continuing level of losses to our armed forces for much longer, in a far away country that they know nothing about. And how much is all this costing, with cuts to public services being roundly predicted?

Time to cut the spin, and come up with a sensible plan, to get us out of this disastrous situation.

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