Saturday, November 07, 2009


AJ, the '2 Davids' (Alloway and Lyonette) & Angela on the High Row this afternoon.

At this time, with the news from Afghanistan and the US so bleak, it's doubly important that we remember across the generations the sacrifice our service personnel, and their forebears, have made in the name of freedom for this country.

That's why I took AJ down to the High Row this afternoon with other councillors and the Mayor, to offer poppies in return for donations to the British Legion, and why he'll be joining me tomorrow as we walk to the Cenotaph in the Memorial's grounds.

(True to form, AJ was a star "salesman", winningly offering people kind enough to make a donation a poppy and a pin the news "the pin's free of charge!")

Anyone who was a supporter of the conflict in Afghanistan, and who is not experiencing some agonies of conscience, is either a fool or wilfully blind to what's going on. I thought that the leader in today's Echo caught that mood rather well, although the accusation that the Government has been dithering seemed harsh, given our whole-hearted commitment to the NATO complement when compared to many of our partners.

For many, the case for intervention in Afghanistan seemed overwhelmingly strong, given the history of the Taliban and their central role in the 9/11 attacks. So too the continuing involvement appears almost inarguable, given the fragility of the Afghan and the Pakistani regimes. A 'Vietnam-style' pullout would leave a vacuum that the likes of the Taliban and Al-Qaeda would be swift to fill. And we wouldn't be back where we started - we would be in a far worst position than we were in back in 2002.

And yet the leader writer is right, we need to have some sense of when this mission will be brought to a close. The British people can't think that there is an open-ended commitment which is costing us and our families so dear in casualties and resources - what military historians are apt to call "blood and treasure".

What isn't always talked about is "Plan B" - because of course, there is an alternative, of sorts. If we withdrew summarily from Afghanistan and the Taliban moved back in and set up the terrorist camps once more, the world would respond. But it would probably involve high level bombing, flattening camps and villages suspected of harbouring terrorists alike. The risk to NATO service personnel would be (relatively) light. The cost to innocent Afghan civilians - thousands, maybe tens of thousands could be wiped away - would be far greater. Hatred of the West - the very thing Al Qaeda prizes above all else - would be fostered amongst the people of the region. And then once more, it would be our streets and communities that would be on the front line in a new stage of terror.

That's why the mission in Afghanistan - the 'nation building' - is so important. It tries to secure safety for us back here in the West by helping the Afghanis themselves construct a state robust enough to withstand the terrorists.

But as the coffins move through Wootton Bassett with awful regularity, we are all forced to confront what the cost of occupying a country to help them foster a democratic society truly is.

There may be a point beyond which the NATO allies say "enough is enough" and begin a withdrawal with our objectives only partly or perhaps not at all met. And I completely respect those people, including some of the families of troops killed or injured, who think we have passed that point already. Should that day come, however, let no-one imagine that there is a cost-free alternative to the current strategy.


Anonymous said...

High level bombing sounds mighty fine compared with our lads getting slaughtered, nuke the place and end the problem for once and all!

james said...

You say that the Taliban had a central role in the 9/11 attacks, Nick, but this has never been claimed, not even by Bush at his most illiterate. The US had tried to engage with Taliban leaders in the years before - who knows, perhaps the path of peace would have had more success that the bombardment of Afghanistan and the current occupation.

Let us be honest about the situation - the world would not respond to the Taliban resuming power, the US would. And if the US wasn't there, Nato wouldn't be - Nato is a relic of the Cold War and the kind of thinking that led to the US supporting folks like the Taliban in the 80s.

Afghanistan, bordering as it does Iran and Russia, is of strategic importance to the US - more to do with the war for resources than the war on terrorism. I can't help feeling that this is the Great Game replayed - and as in the 19th century, our service men and women are fighting yet another war in Afghanistan that cannot be won.

A government that had the balls to tell the US where to stick it and withdraw all combat troops from the middle east would probably win the next election. Sadly, I doubt that anyone will listen to Kim Howells sensible suggestion to shift to counter-terrorism at home - the best measure being to stop fighting wars for the US government.