Thursday, 7 May 2009

Is Afghanistan worth the cost?

Nigel Lawson has recommended the British military pull out of Afghanistan. This could save the government perhaps £3 billion this year, based on costs of £2.6 billion for the last financial year.

The MOD presumably would not favour withdrawal. Afghanistan is now Britain's major theatre of war. But Western military objectives in Afghanistan have always been shaky and active deployment without firm objectives has always been thought a no-no in military terms.

The present deployment began as a response to sheltering Al Quaida camps following the terrorist attacks in the US on September 11, 2001. It then spawned the zeitgeist of wrongly including Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime as a further source of global terrorism. But now the military focus has returned to Afghanistan, the effectiveness and ultimately the purpose of our forces remaining there has to be seriously questioned.

Al Quaida is a ubiquitous global group. It is uncertain how many international terrorist acts performed under its name are dependent on direction from a few individuals hidden in the Afghan-Pakistan borders. US high-tech intelligence and strike capabilities are the best answer to searching out and removing these individuals and their military camps. But the main focus of British and US troops now has become controlling the Taliban.

In Afghan terms, the 'threat' from the Taliban is the enforcement of a strict Sharia regime, which we in the West happen to find abhorrent. But, while many fighters flow from Pakistan, this is essentially an internal civil war, not unlike the many Afghanistan has suffered, almost continually, for years.

Over the last few months mainly US and British military efforts appear to have displaced the Taliban into northern Pakistan where the threat from their presence is of far greater political as well as military concern than their Afghan activities.

This cannot be countered directly by British or America forces. It requires technical and intelligence aid to Pakistan. Whatever we think of the government of Pakistan at any particular time, protecting this nuclear-capable country from Taliban forces is the real priority, given its own border with economically-important India, the largest democracy in the world.

Continued deployment of British forces in southern Afghanistan, far from the lawless North-West Pakistani border, should deserve a hard cost–benefit analysis, even in less economically strapped times. Today, with the government's coffers bare, there is far more reason for concluding that domestic Afghanistan is someone else's war and we should concentrate on less visible and less costly (in terms of lives as well as cash) support for stability within Pakistan.

We wouldn't gain much favour in Washington where military expenditure will presumably continue, but presented in an intelligent way, withdrawal from Afghanistan could well receive British public support.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I view afganistan has a totally unwinnable war, as soon as a village is taken from the Taliban and the Coalition troops leave, the Taliban take it over again, wed have to be in this country for at least another twenty years, its a waste of time.