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Monday, August 17, 2009

A war based on bollocks

"We will succeed and we must succeed." They’re the words of General Sir Richard Dannatt, the head of the British Army, talking about the NATO mission in Afghanistan, which is supposed to be making the world a safer place. Fighting extremists over there stops them coming over here, runs the argument. But as Captain Blackadder would say: “There's only one tiny flaw in that reasoning: it's bollocks!”

The respected Labour MP Paul Flynn puts it less crudely. He told the BBC: "Our soldiers are dying in a cause that is as noble to them as any cause that we've fought in our history. But sadly they are the lions who are being led by foolish politicians and military leaders. The war is unwinnable. Nothing that we've attempted to do has actually worked."

Paul Flynn cites the failure of the allied forces to bring opium production under control (it’s increased) and the continuing appalling human rights record in Afghanistan (the latest law allows husbands to starve wives who deny them regular sex). He also alludes to a couple of rather important factors that the UK Government would do well to pay more heed to: history and culture.

The MP says: "The Taliban are not terrorists; they're not interested in attacking us here. They're attacking us because they see us as the 'ferengi' - the foreigners in their own country - and they regard it as their religious duty to throw us out."

Flynn, who had originally agreed with the decision to send the troops into Afghanistan at the start of the campaign in 2001, predicted the decision to go into Helmand province in 2006 would "stir up a hornet's nest" and be "as futile as the Charge of the Light Brigade." He was wrong. It's proving to be more futile than that calamity of the Crimean War. There were 673 men in the Charge of the Light Brigade - of which probably fewer than 200 died. The British death toll in Afghanistan has already risen above that number. It will go higher still.

I'm not a historian, but I've read enough books to know that military campaigns in Afghanistan are usually star-crossed affairs. I'm not a military strategist but I know that fighting a war without frontlines against extremists who embrace death, don't wear uniforms, and use guerrilla tactics spells disaster. And I'm not a politician but I can detect growing public disquiet about our involvement in a war we can't win and we won't win.

The specious claim that we’re somehow reducing the threat of international terrorism is exposed by the double-standards of western governments: 9/11 was carried out by Saudis; Pakistan is a failed state with nukes and schools that specialise in teaching terror. Why are we not aiming our guns at the real threats?


What is particularly sickening is the certain knowledge that the politicians are simply going through the motions when it comes to Afghanistan. They know it’s a hopeless cause too. They mouth their platitudes in public but in private they realise an exit strategy must be found. It will be, but not until much, much more blood is spilled.

That blood will flow from catastrophic haemorrhages suffered by boys who’ve barely reached puberty in some cases. Boys who very often come from deprived backgrounds on Britain's tougher estates. Boys who thought the army would give them the chance to see the world and maybe make it a better place. Boys who, like countless soldiers before them, have been lied to by vainglorious politicians.

Close you eyes and picture a peaceful, contented Afghanistan, free of warlords, of guns, of opium, of rival clansmen; an Afghanistan where women have equal rights, medieval punishments are consigned to the history books and corruption is rooted out. Can you see it? Can you? I didn’t think so.

It’s time to stop dreaming and wake up quick, before another family is told their son has become the latest hero of Helmand.

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