Monday, May 14, 2012

We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here

"The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, Britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set.  Who knows? - the Taleban wonder - it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home". 

Thus begins a jaw-dropping editorial in the Times today*, with the spectre of democratic accountability looming over our Afghanistan mission, whatever that vaguely-defined entity may have evolved into since last we looked.  It's a stunning piece, one that could've been churned out at any point in the last hundred years. 

Imagine, restive electorates, possibly pressing their governments over an eleven-year long war!  Why, the nerve of people in these democracies, I ask you.

So Britain, our Timesman continues, finds itself balancing grief with a deep gratitude for the sacrifice of two of its servicemen.  That's an interesting take, since I myself have noticed neither grief nor gratitude for some time now.  Whether any individual incident in the war in Afghanistan intrudes into the lives of the general public seems to depend upon whether it can be wedged sideways onto The X-Factor, or whether the story involves a cute springer spaniel.

Anyway, today's editorial is a rather stark tonal shift in the paper's sales job for the war.  Recall, the chronology of justification for our invasion and occuption of Afghanistan is as follows...

2001:  To smoke out those evildoing Al Qaeda scum that attacked America, especially that Osama Bin Laden, and show them that they cannot hide from American justice etc.

2002:  To mop up Taleban remnants.  And, to train the Afghan army.

2003:  Painting some schools, educating some little girls, training the Afghan army and encouraging an entirely organic liberal democracy to flourish spontaneously in a barren land run by heavily-armed warlords and clans, that kind of thing.  Oh, and mopping up Taleban remnants.

2006:  Mopping up the suddenly-resurgent Taleban, who may or may not be infested with Al Qaeda.  And painting schools.  And training the Afghan army.  And, bombing Pakistan, for some reason.  And also, liberal democracy, all that jazz.

2010:  Surging troop levels way past Soviet occupation numbers to really get that mopping-up job done once and for all.  Also, preventing the atrocities that are continuing to happen even now, while troop levels have surged way past Soviet occupation numbers.  Here, look at these pictures of atrocities, while we get busy training the Afghan army.

Well, here we are in 2012.  Osama is toast, his evil crew long since captured or incinerated and the US has been running high-profile victory laps around Al Qaeda's smoking corpse for about two years. 

So, why do we still have thousands of soldiers in Afghanistan?  Here's the Times, today - our grief is laced with a resolve...

"...To make clear to Afghanistan's militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan". 

I'm unsure whether the Taleban only have to realise that we will dictate our withdrawal, or whether they have to agree that this is the case in a lawyer's letter.  After all, we can't leave now because of "the unreadiness of the Afghan forces to secure Kabul". 

Now, here's a lesson from American military history - if you've been training an army to defend its capital city for eleven years and it still isn't up to the task, it's probably not that interested in defending its capital city.

Bonus points too for the sunk-costs fallacy: "A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable". 

Translation: We must continue to get our soldiers killed in an effort to achieve the impossible, because doing otherwise would be disrespectful to all the soldiers that we have already got killed by trying to do the impossible.

As Kipling almost said - If they question why we died/Tell them because our fathers lied wanted to make clear to the enemy that the withdrawal of troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House.

Additionally, Barack Obama hopes that his recent agreement with the Afghan government will "persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave".  Diplomacy, after all, is the art of saying "Nice Doggie" while groping for a rock that doesn't exist, in a room full of ravenous timber wolves.

And that's it.  That's the sum total of their best case, their most convincing justification for British troops staying for the next two years. 

I've been saying since, oh, 2002? that if we want to show our gratitude for our soldiers, we could always repay them by bringing them back to Britain and buying them a round of drinks, rather than by forcing them to act as target practice for any passing Pashtun with a grudge.

After all, as an American politician once famously asked - How do you ask a man to be the last man to die for a mistake?

The answer comes back firmly and confidently from the Times editorial board - On pain of court-martial. 

*As ever, it's paywalled.  I'll post the full thing in comments when I get a minute, so you can judge for yourselves.

4 comments:

flyingrodent said...

Soldiering On - The death of two British servicemen in Afghanistan must not cloud Nato's mission.

The Taleban hope that each new killing of a Nato soldier will be the straw that breaks the back of the resolve of America, britain and their Isaf partners to linger in Afghanistan a minute longer than the 2014 deadline they have already set. Who knows? - the Taleban wonder - it may even spur them to pick up their skirts and run away even sooner if pressed to do so by restive electorates at home.

Just hours after President Obama left Afghanistan last week after a visit to mark the anniversary of Osama Bin Laden's death and to tell Americans that a "time of war" was ending, the Taleban inflicted another spasm of mayhem. A suicide bomb attack and a gunfight left six dead. The aim, said the Taleban, was to show Mr Obama that he needs "to focus on how to get out of this country".

On Saturday, two British servicemen were shot dead in Lashkar Gah by men wearing local police uniforms - although, as in similar previous incidents, the killers may have been insurgents or Afghan security forces disguised as police, seeking to sow mistrust between Nato and Afghan forces.

So Britain, once more, finds itself balancing grief with a deep gratitude for the sacrifice of two of its servicemen. Once more, that grief is laced with a resolve to make clear to Afghanistan's militants that the withdrawal of British troops from the country will be dictated by a timetable set in Downing Street and the White House, not by murderers in Afghanistan. Far from goading international forces to hasten their exit, the recent attacks by militants serve only to focus greater attention on the unreadiness of afghan forces to secure Kabul.

A premature exit that abandons the ambitions and achievements of the past decade would be a betrayal of those who have given their lives to make Afghanistan more stable - a stability designed, in turn, to buttress the security of Britain and its allies.

Some 414 British service personnel have died since operations began in Afghanistan. These are lives not callously or carelessly squandered.

While the Nato-Isaf mission has succeeded in robbing Al Qaeda of a secure haven in Afghanistan from which to launch attackes, the country remains far from what anyone might consider a functioning state. Corruption still scars the Government, the Afghan police force and the Army. The administration in Kabul is weak.

Nato recognises that its work is not finished. In its recently drafted strategic partnership agreement with Kabul, America has outlined how it plans to stand by Afghanistan after 2014's withdrawal of most Nato troops. Mr Obama hopes the agreement will reassure Afghans that Nato's withddrawal will not plunge their country back into the sort of civil war of the early 1990s that allowed for the Taleban to flourish. He hopes, too, that the agreement might persuade the Taleban that negotiating now will pay greater dividends than waiting for American soldiers to leave in the hope of the Taleban filling the vacuum. The final legacy of the Nato-led mission must be to offer Afghans faith in their future, to make the young and the talented think twice about fleeing the country when it is their talents that could steer the country to stability.

Commenting yesterday on the death of the two British servicemen, Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, said: "This is a society where people traditionally settle grievances by violence". It is to make Afghanistan a country where people do not reflexively reach for a gun to settle grievances that 313 British troops have bravely sacrificed their lives.

woodscolt said...

It is to make Afghanistan a country where people do not reflexively reach for a gun to settle grievances that 313 British troops have bravely sacrificed their lives.

Jesus. That would be funny if it weren't so awful.

flyingrodent said...

Aye. If the Afghans have automatically reached for their weapons when aggrieved, you have to wonder how Hammond thinks that culture can be changed in two years.

BTW, that figure of "313" British servicemen killed is a typo. It should read "414". Full list here -

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10629358

Mr Larrington said...

Never get involved in a land war in Asia