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What has been achieved in Afghanistan?

Mark Urban | 18:21 UK time, Monday, 21 June 2010

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The loss of the 300th member of the British forces in Afghanistan comes at a time of soul searching about the mission and its direction. Talking to Brigadier James Cowan, who commanded 11 Brigade, recently returned from 6 months in Helmand, he remarked that the 300th fatality shouldn't be treated any differently to the 134th, "it matters to each and every parent, but what I'd like to show is the progress, I believe we made huge progress in our time".

It is a good argument - there are plenty of examples of democracies accepting casualties if they believe the war they are engaged in has a point and is going well. Conversely, if the public thinks a sacrifice is futile it is very hard to retain their support.

Brig Cowan says that since his troops launched Operation Moshtarak in February violence has decreased by 75% in areas of central Helmand where the British have established more security bases.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) says that public support, for example in the Nad e-Ali district, has recently resulted in six improvised explosive devices (IEDs) or bombs being found for each one set off, a similarly significant figure.

Elsewhere, in the Sangin District, where British troops face their hardest fight, there are figures produced of a trebling of the number of shops open in the bazaar, or of the success of primary education in attracting thousands of children. These indicators, reflecting a kind of return to 'normality', for some people at least, are much favoured by Nato's commander, US General Stan McChrystal.

They are also the subject of some controversy.

The United Nations for example has recently reported that the number of IEDs encountered in Afghanistan increased by 94% during the first four months of 2010.

Meanwhile the losses of British personnel have risen from 39 in 2006, to 42 in 2007, 51 in 2008, and 108 in 2009. The total so far this year is 55 which may mark a levelling out, it's too early to say.

So which indicators do we follow? If the establishment of hundreds of security posts across southern Afghanistan brings greater stability but costs the lives of more western or Afghan soldiers is that progress?

Perhaps the biggest question is whether foreign troops in greater numbers simply stimulate more opposition in a place like southern Afghanistan? Certainly one UN official has asserted that is precisely what has happened.

This has now become a contest in which Nato attempts to impose its counter-insurgency template on one of the world's most traditionally lawless areas. If it can suppress the unrest and turn areas over to Afghan forces from July 2011, then success will be declared just as it was in Iraq.

If, however, the White House orders a draw-down in just over one year and things are still getting worse, then Nato will have suffered defeat. There are some other options, including, of course, that violence will start to reduce as the foreign forces leave particular areas, allowing both sides to insist they prevailed.

It is apparent though that the generals and politicians are already deploying their final arguments. Privately many officers fume that President Barack Obama's withdrawal date is cutting the ground from under them and politicians have started blaming the generals for getting them into a full scale insurgency.

Increasingly, during the coming months, the soldiers' appeal to both the White House and Downing Street will be 'give us more time'. They may get it, but with each passing month the indicators of 'success' are likely to receive increasingly tough scrutiny from the politicians and public.


  • Comment number 1.


    FIRST In Blair's reign we were contemptuously apprised that War is none of our business. From Dave's disingenuous stance, it still isn't.

    SECOND These are mercenaries, DOING THE JOB THY LOVE. They have done a deal with the imperious leaders above, to be paid with our money to indulge in EXTREME PAINT BALLING. In the words of J Gordon Brown: "Get real".

  • Comment number 2.

    It is interesting that your normal UK resident foes not fully understand what the climate is like in Afganistan. Therefore to gain support for a long running battle will be a battle with the voting public. I think an early exit would be ensible as it was not our desire to enter orginally

  • Comment number 3.

    no mention of the mineral discovery that will make afghanistan the 'saudi arabia' of lithium etc?

    funny how afghans with the taliban are commando level fighters but when working with the occupation are hopeless opium smokers that even after 9 years of 'training' can't even hold one town never mind a district?

    why no challenge that it makes uk 'safer' when all the studies shows foreign occupation is more likely to increase suicide bombing in the uk. what studies do they have that it does make the uk 'safer?'

  • Comment number 4.


    The Coalition does not lie Jaunty.

    Dave - "just because my head is the wrong shape on a poster, does not mean I am a liar" - Cameron, and Nick - 2everything we said was true when we said it" - Clegg, will not lie to us. We have their word.

    Dave says the war is keeping us safe and Nick says - well - nothing. What can't speak can't lie!

    Oh - it's all going awfully well.

  • Comment number 5.

    To be begin with the cost of our deployment has been to high, our loss rate percentage wise is highter than the US!
    a staggering £20Bn has been spent on Afghanistan/Iraq, no wonder the MOD is broke!All for little real gain, we will leave the country almost as unstable as we entered it.
    But the real cost has been to our Strategic posture.
    Afghanistan is in many ways a "sideshow", all the resources poured into the country for a conflict that Britain will have left by at most 2015.
    There a plenty of other Strategic problems for MOD to deal with.
    Possible looming confrontation with Iran, protecting our Interests in the South Atlantic Ocean, keeping a eye on a increasingly aggressive Russia, tensions in the Eastern MED, Anti-Piracy and Anti Drug operations in the Caribbean and Indian Ocean, Homeland Defence, inculding Security in Ulster and even honouring our treaty obligations to South Korea in the event of a major flareup in the Korean Peninsula and a host of other minor commitments.
    But Afghanistan has bred a group of Middle and Senior ranking Army Officers whose experiance is in COIN operations in AFG/Iraq, these "Camel Corp" Soldiers are influencing the current SDR, there view is that we don't really need Conventional Forces, but a Military designed to Fight the "Afghan Wars" of the future.
    This myopic view will be disastrous for our security.
    In a couple of decades ,when Britain is facing a Russian Armoured offensive to grab the Baltic States lacking Modern Mechanized forces or Trying to regain the Falklands from a well armed Argentina without Aircraft Carriers or trying to penerate the highly effective Airdefences of a rogue state, to prevent it killing hundreds thousands of its on minorities , with aircraft fit for the scrapyard,
    We will the rule the day, we ever got involved with Afghanistan.

  • Comment number 6.

    What are we even doing in Afghanistan? Does 9/11 justify the invasion of Afghanistan? Not according to David Ray Griffin - 41st most influential person of the year according to the New Statesman - not that the BBC wants to talk to him...

    DRG decimates the official lies of the Afghan War in this article:

    Marjorie Cohn, a well-known professor of international law, wrote in November 2001: “The bombings of Afghanistan by the United States and the United Kingdom are illegal.” In 2008, Cohn repeated this argument in an article entitled “Afghanistan: The Other Illegal War.”

    It is illegal because:

    Only UN Security Council may authorize the use of force. Without this authorization, any military activity against another country is illegal.

    There are two exceptions: One if your nation has been subjected to an armed attack by another nation, you may respond militarily in self-defense. This condition was not fulfilled by the 9/11 attacks because they were not carried out by another nation: Afghanistan did not attack the United States. None of the 19 men charged with the crime are Afghans.

    The other exception occurs when one nation has certain knowledge that an armed attack by another nation is imminent – too imminent to bring the matter to the Security Council. The need for self-defense must be, in the generally accepted phrase, "instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Although the US government claimed that its military operations in Afghanistan were justified by the need to prevent a second attack, this need, even if real, was clearly not urgent, as shown by the fact that the US did not launch its invasion until almost a month later.

    US political leaders have claimed that the UN did authorize the US attack on Afghanistan. This claim, originally made by the Bush-Cheney administration, since repeated by President Obama that US troops went to Afghanistan “under the banner of . . . international legitimacy.”

    However, the UN resolution of “all necessary steps” from UN Security Council Resolution 1368 does not authorize an attack on Afghanistan! Resolution 1373, the only other Security Council resolution about this issue, laid out the expected responses, such as freezing assets, criminalizing the support of terrorists, exchanging police information 
about terrorists, and prosecuting terrorists: Invasion (and installing a puppet government of drug barons) was not mentioned.

    So the US war in Afghanistan was not authorized by the UN Security Council in 2001 or at anytime since. This war began as an illegal war and remains an illegal war today.

  • Comment number 7.

    Can a democratic country expect approval for sending its citizens to war for the sake of geopolitical advantage and resources?
    Make no mistake: the Afghanistan War is about geopolitical advantage in the Middle East. It’s about oil. The Afghanistan Oil Pipeline was (is) a project proposed by several oil companies to transport oil from Azerbaijan and Central Asia THROUGH AFGHANISTAN to Pakistan or India.
    To make things worse, in August, the Afghan government said it had discovered a large oilfield containing an estimated 1.8B barrels in northern Afghanistan. The basin lies between northern Balkh and Shiberghan Provinces.
    Various estimates of Afghanistan’s wealth have been made, but first the Taliban, the terrorists, Afghans in general must be put under control; that is, before the wealth can be stolen, including those untapped mineral deposits valued at $3 TRILLION. The untapped mineral resources include iron ore, copper, lithium, oil gas and gems.
    China’s top integrated copper producer, Jiangxi Copper Co. and China Metallurgical Group Corp., in 2007 became the first major investor in Afghanistan. You can bet this increased the importance of the American mission in Afghanistan. So since 2007, the war drags on.
    Can a democratic country live with the civilian casualties caused by its own troops. E.g. the wedding party in Nangarhar – bombed. An entire family wiped out.
    In order to carry out this sort of killing, the killer must have been dehumanized; the victims must have been hehumanized.
    What has been accomplished in Afghanistan is a glaring need for a new definition of war crimes, and the Americans (this time) must not be wllowed to opt out. How else can we deal with the large number of unintented civilian casualties killed during drone attacks, or during house searches in Afghanistan? How do we deal with the "targeted killings" of enemies – without trial.
    It’s time for democratic countries to go home. If they want the minerals and oil from Afghanistan, they like the Chinese, should be parpared to pay the going price - not in blood, but in money.

  • Comment number 8.

    What is being achieved in Afghanistan, and what will "more time" likely buy?
    Nato Report: Three Afghan policemen were killed by friendly fire; a woman and two children were killed accidentally in fighting in separate incidents in Afghanistan.
    In addition: six Afghan policemen have been found dead in their station house in Helmand Province in southern Afghanistan. Provincial spokesman Dawood Ahmadi said the bodies of the victims, who were shot, were found in Greskh District. He wasn't sure who shot them.
    NATO’s Report: In the north (where lies all that oil, and all those minerals), Afghan security forces, under fire from an unknown number of insurgents, called for air support. Two helicopters responded and fired a hellfire missile and 30 millimeter rounds. An investigation of the site later showed that three members of the Afghan National Police were accidentally killed and several more were wounded. NATO said it was sending a team to the area to determine what happened. (Doesn't it know?)
    In the west, a woman and four children were accidentally killed in fighting that erupted as Afghan as international forces pursued a Taliban militant.
    Clashes took place in Helmand’s volatile Sangin District. Officials earlier said they believed that around 12 guards had been killed when the heavy gunbattles broke out between insurgents and guards working for a road construction company in Sangin. Helmand Provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi said a dozen bodies were evacuated to a hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah. “We know that they were killed during yesterday’s fighting with the Taliban. We don’t know whether they are guards or workers.”
    In the USA a Gallup poll showed support for the Afghan War was plummeting; 60% of Americans now firmly opposed to the war, the worst result since the 2001 US invasion. The poll also showed that less than 1 in 5 Americans, only 19%, expect the war to get any better in the next year.
    As for Iraq, the poll showed that Americans largely approve of the idea of withdrawing troops from Iraq, though the validity of this poll must be questioned because the pull-out was/is not in reality a pull-out: 57,000 Americans remain in Iraq, including contractors and then there's that humungous embassy (bigger than the entire Vatican) that is to be staffed with a rapid response force + diplomats".
    So, what is being achieved in Afghanistan?
    The "achievements" just go on and on...


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