For your faithful Mambo correspondents most issues are fairly straightforward. The NHS bill is bad. Shirley Williams is a disgrace. George Osborne is wrong on everything. John Terry is a wanker. Harry Redknapp should be in prison and has no business being England manager.
But the current situation in Afghanistan is one of those questions that is a little bit more complicated. Things just aren’t that straightforward.
The issue has been brought back into sharp relief by two events in the last few days: the deaths of another 6 British troops on the Helmand/Kandahar border nearly a week ago and the night-time slaughter of at least 12, and as many as 16 Afghan civilians by a US soldier.
The cold-blooded murder of those dozen or so civilians starkly highlights the brutality of occupation and the inevitable dehumanizing effects on the occupying forces. This event is in fact one of countless incidents during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It certainly isn’t isolated, regardless of what NATO commanders might be saying right now and would like to pretend. In fact this is the fifth year in a row that the numbers of civilian deaths have increased (although of course the Taliban have to take a lot of the responsibility for that too…….)
The mindless burning of the Qur’an by US troops a few weeks ago, which led to the deaths of another six American troops, is one such example. What possessed US forces to do something so nakedly provocative? Have they received no training on some of the political and cultural issues of the country they are occupying? Or have they never read a paper or watched the news….ever?
Coming from Britain, one always has to bear in mind that the number of British casualties is tiny compared to the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of civilians killed during the Iraq and Afghan wars post 9/11. But when most of the men involved are ten years younger than your writer and these are people that you and I could easily have grown up with it is nonetheless deeply shocking. One cannot helped be moved by the pictures of boys, as that is what many of them are, who have been killed in the service of a political class that largely doesn’t give a toss about them.
The folly of the conflict is palpable and the predictable response of the government (usually along the lines of ‘the mission continues’. What mission? Does anyone have any idea anymore why we are still there and what those poor lads have died for?) is as frustrating as it is vacuous.
Cameron, Hammond et al are just going through the motions. There seems to be an unwritten code amongst the political class that calling an end to the conflict is somehow untenable. That admitting defeat cannot be countenanced. That we press on until the ‘mission is accomplished.’ Troops serving in Afghanistan trot out vapid clichés about ‘serving their country’ and ‘keeping Britain’s streets safe’, which surely they know isn’t true.
But the Labour opposition are little better. Obviously they have the millstone around their neck of actually being the ones who went along with the Americans in the first place, but an article by Douglas Alexander purporting to be ‘straight talking’ is anything but. Cameron is undoubtedly failing, but I see little evidence that the Labour front bench have anything to offer right now beyond partisan sniping.
The problem that nobody seems able to address is that ‘we’ won’t win. We can’t win. The strategies on offer are leave now or carry on as we are. And I don’t think I’m simplifying things. I have yet to see any serious alternative to those two options being posed.
The conflict has been going on for over ten years now and the Taliban haven’t been crushed. Much of the country is outside the rule of the central government in Kabul and large swathes are under de facto Taliban control.
Continuing with the current path just means more deaths on both sides and in fact is the coward’s way out. It tries to hide away from the obvious, that those 404 British soldiers and thousands of civilians have sadly died for nothing. That George Bush’s bloodthirsty desire for vengeance drove a conflict that has led to untold destruction and suffering and with little or nothing accomplished bar the replacement of one regime of gangsters and warlords with another.
I’m assuming that if some sort of negotiations are going on with the Taliban then the reality has dawned on the politicians and military top brass that some sort of coherent exit strategy is required. The current plan seems to be to have all combat troops out by the end of 2014, although some sort of long-term presence is likely to be maintained.
How the Taliban are to be defeated in the meantime is never discussed, oddly enough. And seeing as that was supposedly the purpose of the mission and it has certainly not been accomplished, surely defeat is already being tacitly acknowledged…….
The Taliban can’t be ‘beaten’, (well not without the sort of sacrifices that the American and British public would be prepared to tolerate anyway) despite the bombast we have to endure from the political and military leadership (and I’m sure it is doubly galling or military families who must know it is bullshit and also know that there sons and husbands will continue to die to maintain the fiction) about ‘one more heave’ not letting ‘our will fail’ and ‘victory being around the corner’. We’ve been hearing this guff for years and we appear no nearer to victory.
Now I’m sure you are thinking I have laid a fairly black and white case for withdrawal. And to a degree I have. But one issue has not been factored in so far.
Not the loveliest chaps around to be perfectly honest.
In fact many of them are pretty barbaric. The overthrow of that horrible regime in 2001 (was it really nearly 11 years ago? Christ alive) wasn’t exactly a disaster in and of itself. If I was a woman I’d have been rather glad to have seen the back of them……
The problem has come with what has replaced them. Hamid Karzai’s regime is deeply unpopular, brutal, outrageously corrupt, has very little power outside of Kabul and is clearly in hock to warlords that quite frankly are little better than the Taliban.
But as Peter Tatchell has commented previously, the perfectly justified emotional desire to just get out of there isn’t enough. If NATO pulled out tomorrow the Taliban in all likelihood would (eventually) fill the vacuum and the consequences if they did re-take power would be horrific. Their previous spell in power was characterised by almost inhuman, medieval brutality and there is little indication that it would be any different this time.
The difficulty I have, and it’s a doubt that grows with the revelation of every new atrocity committed by NATO forces, is that the occupation is defending a regime with little popular support and is only delaying the day that the Taliban return.
And that there may be little choice but to accept the inevitable, sadly. Which of course would be a horrible betrayal of the Afghan people, who have suffered decade after decade of foreign interference, civil war and a succession of truly foul governments. But honestly, what alternative is there right now? I know it sounds like a prophecy of doom, but I’m genuinely at a loss to know what can be done to end the years of suffering for this most unfortunate of nations.
It seems like a genuinely hopeless situation, if rumours of Taliban strength are to be believed (if not then we should have withdrawn already, surely…..) If any of our regular commenters and contributors have an alternative plan, I’d love to hear it.