Friday 3 July 2009

Afghanistan – the good war?

I am constantly amazed at how often when the issue of our military presence in Afghanistan is raised the starting assumption is that this was, unlike Iraq, a good war. That our invasion of Afghanistan was the correct thing to do. Even the blessed Liberal Democrats support our action there. But why?

The assumption has always been that the invasion of Afghanistan was in response to the murderous attacks on 9/11. However, as far as I am aware, the Afghan government was not responsible for these attacks. Nor were any Afghan citizens involved in the attacks. On the other hand the organizers and fifteen of the hijackers were from Saudi Arabia, two from the United Arab Emirates, one from Egypt, and one from Lebanon. So the Americans with our docile support decide to bomb and invade Afghanistan? And the connection? Our old friend and enemy, Osama bin Laden, who is alleged to be the instigator and the brains behind the attacks was at the time based in Afghanistan. As the Taliban, the ruling faction in Afghanistan, refused to bow to American demands the US with our support decided to invade and occupy the country.

As later proved to be the case in Iraq, invading and defeating a third world army and regime is pretty small beer. The real difficulty is what to do next. Coalition forces are still in Afghanistan and still fighting and killing. In February of this year the UN reported that 2,118 Afghan civilians had been killed in 2008, the highest number since the defeat of the Taliban in 2001. Of these deaths, over 800 were killed by coalition forces, mostly due to air strikes. Remember, these are Afghan civilians. This seems to be what our troops are especially good at – killing civilians. Not that the coalition forces get away scot free. According to Wikipedia, as of July 02 this year there has been 1,205 coalition deaths since 2001. As for the UK, as of July 01 there has been 171 British deaths and upwards of 2,300 combat injuries.

All in the name of what? By all accounts Osama and his little band are alive and well somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan. The US forces never seemed to make much of an effort to catch him anyway. Perhaps it suits the US and their allies to have him still alive to be rolled out as a bogeyman every now and again. The subsequent islamist terror attacks in Spain and in the UK for example, do not seem to have relied much on Osama and his al-Qaeda group. In the UK it seems to be UK citizens who are sufficiently disaffected to want to kill their fellow citizens. Not sure how occupying and killing muslims in Afghanistan is going to help us win the hearts and minds of muslims living in the UK.

As for Afghanistan itself it is hard to see how that country has benefited from our attention. True the Taliban no longer rule the country, but who does? By many accounts outside the capital, Kabul, the rest of the country is under the control of regional warlords. Very few of whom seem to place much value on Western style democracy and civil liberties. Afghanistan seems to be an even more fractured country than Iraq. The Pashtun make up the largest ethnic group in the country, comprising around 40% of the population. Afghanistan is essentially the kingdom of the Pashtun. Interesting to note that the word Afghan is apparently an alternative to Pashtun. The other large ethnic group is the Tajik who make up 30% or more of the population. Uzbeks, Hazara, Turkmen and many other smaller ethnic groups make up the rest of the population. Given that most of the Taliban supporters are Pashtun, we seem to be involved in supporting one side in a civil war. Not quite sure what this has to do with UK security.

As far as I can see none of the mission statements from the Americans or the British amount to much of an achievable objective for the coalition forces. We're there because we're there and since we're there we might as well do something to help create a prosperous, stable, democratic and freedom loving country. If that means killing thousands of civilians well what the hell – they're only Afghans. Nobody seems to have bothered to ask the Afghans if this is what they want and if the continued occupation and slaughter of their fellow citizens is the best way to achieve it. Once again not sure why the UK should be paying for (in the lives of our soldiers as well as in money) this attempt to create a little Finland in the Middle East. Not our business at all.

If we want to reduce the likelihood of future terrorist attacks by muslims then this can be better and more cheaply achieved if our government were to: 1) stop invading and occupying muslim countries; 2) stop giving carte blanche support to Israel in its continuing bloody occupation of Palestine; 3) stop using islamophobic rhetoric in the UK.

At a time of economic crisis when some politicians and commentators are calling for the retirement age to be raised to 70 and for public services to be cut back, all on the grounds that the country cannot continue to find the funds – it is nothing short of scandalous that we continue to waste lives and money on an ill-fated war.

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