An Afghanistan Veteran Reveals the Truth Behind the Withdrawal of British Troops

by Joe Glenton

The Independent

Contrary to the spin regarding the capabilities of the Afghan security forces,withdrawal of British troops from the country is being driven solely by insider attacks and opposition at home.

The exit strategy for the ISAF had been getting Afghan security forces to fend for themselves, so that control of the country could be continued by proxy. This task, by all credible accounts, has not been achieved. Rather, the insider attacks have scuppered the training program, and now we are seeing the onset of the “cut and run” that politicians have talked up for so long.

Think what you will of the politics of the resistance, but even if you mischaracterise all, or even most, of the opponents of occupation as Islamist, the strategy of “insider” attacks has an undeniable Tet quality to it. It should also be noted that a resistance on any scale, let alone the scale of the insurgency in Afghanistan, needs support and sanction by the population to go anywhere.

An insurgent relies on the people for support, intelligence, shelter and political approval, even for extra firepower. Attacks on ISAF patrols in Afghanistan in the past have been supported, quite spontaneously at times, by locals coming from miles around to take pot-shots at the intruders, as was reported in David Kilcullen’s excellent book The Accidental Guerrilla.

The long game

Likewise, it’s easy to refute claims by a leading US general that a lack of fighting in Helmand – leading to the boredom of marines – constitutes a sign of progress. To make that argument you would have to ignore, firstly, the seasonal nature of fighting in Afghanistan – did anyone tell the general it is winter? Secondly, you’d have to miss the nature of the war itself; what insurgent would blunder into a province flooded with US Marines? The Afghans have played the long game. It has served them today as it has in previous occupations.

The only way out for ISAF was for the constituent militaries to train their way free, so the whole program had come to rest on this, and the threat of insider killings has made that plan politically untenable. For good measure, even our own side consider the ISAF presence an “occupation”.

The other major factor in this is, of course, the rejection of the war at home. Though not because the public do not grasp Afghanistan’s complexities, as has been suggested in the past – rather, it’s precisely because people do understand. The occupation has become a conversational punch-bag, it seems, everywhere except Westminster; though one suspects that in some quarters it is a grim in-joke there as well. At the same time as people support servicemen on a human level and condemn their betrayal by successive governments, the war has been a waddling tragedy since 2006.

It is an insult to talk of withdrawal in terms of the cost in pounds, as some do, when the cost in mutilation and death is what cuts us the most. I do not count these deaths as lightly as the government; I have seen a number of familiar faces appear on television, accompanied by words like: “Today, another soldier…”

What is clear is that the Afghans, portrayed as feckless and needy each time the occupation needed to be re-justified, are still, as ever, capable of controlling their own territory and their own lives and driving occupiers out of both. Defeat has been a steady drip-drip for the west, but it is defeat nonetheless.

Objection

Like Iraq, Afghanistan has a reasonably pliable government for now, but arguably the greatest collection of military power in history has been ground down by ordinary people with no planes, no armour, no drones and no illusions about why Afghanistan was invaded.

Even very recently in the Kabul Bank saga, it has been clear that capital flows out of the country and I would expect that to increase in the coming months. I also expect to see prominent public figures rushing to catch up with their loot in Dubai and similar sanctuaries.

More conventional attempts at robbery are being employed at home to escape a grim fate in Afghanistan. Only this week Private Stephen Evans, 20, of theRoyal Welsh Regiment was convicted for attempting an armed robbery in order to escape of a third tour of Afghanistan. The judge took into account his“suffering post-traumatic stress disorder following his tour of Afghanistan”.

A bizarre route to take, but not totally inexplicable when you realise the average reading age of a soldier joining the infantry is ten and most other ways to get treatment or air objections are obscured or denied.

This young man may have been expressing a conscientious objection; which soldiers have a legal, contractual right to have recognised. It is a hard road, but it is better than being the last man to die for hubris.

6 comments on “An Afghanistan Veteran Reveals the Truth Behind the Withdrawal of British Troops

  1. At the risk of stating the obvious the UK military has to go before or with the USA Forces – otherwise its Gandamack again.

    I cannot help thinking that there will be a domestic price to be paid for this adventure. And let’s take the time to remember John Reid who’s now a director of G4S.

  2. mark taha on said:

    It ain’t our war,in my view.But do you really want Taliban totalitarian fanatics to take over again?

  3. mark taha: do you really want Taliban totalitarian fanatics to take over again?

    Well, firstly let us remember that there are worse forces in Afghanistan than the Taliban. The forming of the Taliban was paradoxically a step FORWARDS for women, as one Afghan woman described it to me, under the Taliban she couldn’t work or be educated, under the warlord anarchy that preceded the Taliban, she couldn’t leave the house at all, for fear of rape and abduction.

    The Taliban did restore authority, and were gradually subduing the warlords, so there was at least a central government that the outside world could engage with, and put pressure on

    Secondly, of course, there is no sign to back up your implication that the Karzai government would simply implode if Western troops left. Why should it?

    What is needed, and what has been sorely missing, is a credible exit strategy. We should acknoeledge that British squaddies are dying in Afghanitan only because the USA is not prepared to lose face by talking to Iran and China.

    If all the regional powers would sign up to a stabilization treaty, guaranteeing that they will not fund or arm the warlords, and using a regional organization like the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation to underpin the soveignty of the Kabul government, then with some subsidy of the economy, the authority of the centre could be boosted.

    This could provide a foundation for a strategy of incorporation of the warlord polities under the authority of Kabul (basically putting them on the payroll, with some strict strings, and the threat of them otherwise being disarmed), and a process of nation building. Yes, this mean bringing the Taliban back into the government as a junior partner, until they too become co-opted and assimilated.

    Some variation or another of this will happen, it is up to the politicians who have supported the war to explain to the bereaved families why it was worth their young men dying for this pot of beans. An outcome they could have had at any time over the last ten years.

  4. This point by Glenton is important:

    The exit strategy for the ISAF had been getting Afghan security forces to fend for themselves, so that control of the country could be continued by proxy. This task, by all credible accounts, has not been achieved.

    This strategy was always non-viable unless it was accompanied by a strategy of increasing the authority of Kabul, and a regional stabilisation plan.

    The USA could not deliver this because they i) they will not involve neighbouring countries as that would underline their weakness;and ii) they have no strategy for dealing with Pakistan, where paradoxically, the US war in Afghanistan is weakening the American’s regional standing and authority in Islamabad.

    It was the US, due to their own hubris, that kept Karazi weak, and rejuvinated the warlords

  5. “there is no sign to back up your implication that the Karzai government would simply implode if Western troops left. Why should it?”

    Hmm, I’m not sure of this,Andy. I don’t believe Karzai has much credibility among the general populace after the previous sham elections.This is why the author expects the outflow of capital to accelerate as the pullout gathers momentum.Without the US army presence, the current Afghan army wouldn’t be a match for the Taliban fighters, who are more than a little familiar with the tactics of the previous Mujahideen fighters.
    I also think it is wishful thinking to assume the Taliban would settle for a “junior” role in any coalition.