Afghanistan: IoS readers have their say

The Independent on Sunday believes the war is ill-conceived, unwinnable and counter-productive, and we should plan now for the phased withdrawal of our blameless forces within a year or so. But what do our readers, our politicians and our soldiers say?



IoS readers: 'I am distraught at the loss of soldiers, the cost and the lack of an exit strategy'

We asked you to comment on our call last week to bring the nation's troops back home from an unwinnable war. The overwhelming majority of letters in a huge postbag favoured ending British involvement in what is now a local matter. We print extracts below...

Both the Government and the Opposition should admit there is no future in keeping British troops in Afghanistan, and announce a date for withdrawal. We couldn't win in Afghanistan in the 19th century, the USSR had no success in the 20th, and the US will come to see that it is another Vietnam and eventually quit without achieving the original aims.

Hugh Bower

Coventry

Prolonging the war will only stir up hatred against us and result in more of our soldiers being killed... and for what purpose? We shall have to pull out sooner or later, and we cannot win. The Russians couldn't handle Afghanistan, and they lived next door!

Ian Leary

Doncaster, South Yorkshire

In 1944, my father, an RAF pilot, was shot down and killed. He was 22, and left my 21-year-old mother a widow and my grandparents without their only son. It breaks my heart to see the young widows and children, the parents and the families of troops so young returning in their coffins. The black hole they leave never goes away. This war is not worth a single death or terrible injury. It is a price those in power ask that is far too high to pay.

Anne Dove

Brentwood, Essex

The Americans have not learnt that you cannot bomb your way into people's hearts and minds. We must not let the Washington warlords drag Britain any further into this unwinnable war.

George Heath

Harwich, Essex

The time has come: withdraw.

Maurice Killen

via email

Our streets are not made safe by this war but unsafe, and will remain so while we are fighting in Muslim countries. Our troops are risking their lives to support a corrupt government whose reach does not extend outside Kabul. The Government did not listen to the people over Iraq, with dire consequences. They should listen now.

JR French

Lichfield, Staffordshire

After the Taliban have been bombed out of existence, and Waziristan reduced to rubble, do we seriously think that Islamic extremism will be wiped out? War solves nothing. If we want to take power from the Taliban, then we should do it with freely and gracefully given aid. It is time we dissociated ourselves from America and made our own decisions. Let us give Hamid Karzai aid, but not our troops. It's his country now.

Caroline Kail

Via email

Afghanistan has one very big thing going for it. As well as the US, Europe and Russia, all of its neighbours have a major interest in its stability. So does Turkey, India, Israel, Egypt, Syria and, in varying degrees, all the Muslim countries from Morocco to Indonesia. These countries have the political, financial, and religious resources to put immense pressure on all the parties involved. A diplomatic campaign to coordinate international efforts could well succeed, given the Obama administration's drive to replace confrontation with cooperation.

John Pedler

Sarlat, Dordogne, France

Yes, we should withdraw British forces from Afghanistan.

Alan Potter

Stroud, Gloucestershire

We rightly hear much of casualties among the troops, but we must also remember the many Afghan civilian casualties. I hope all those who have honoured the dead and injured soldiers at this time of Remembrance, and have worn a poppy, will act to prevent further deaths and maimings by contacting their MP, to demand a withdrawal of British troops from Afghanistan.

Barry Bishop

Via email

Greedy, selfish bankers have done far more to damage this country in the past year than the people we are trying to persecute for protecting their own surroundings and way of life. A small percentage of the current military bill would help the Financial Services Authority to ensure that we could all sleep more securely at night.

Barry Clarke

Shepton Mallet, Somerset

I have great difficulty in seeing anyone defeat the Taliban. They do not wear a uniform, they know their country, have lots of money and bribe whoever they want. Jacqueline Babinet

Kingston upon Thames, Surrey

What did you expect George Bush to do after 3,000 people were slaughtered in New York? Heaven help Afghan women if The Independent on Sunday gets its way.

John Kirkham

Woodford Green, Essex

Where does Gordon Brown get his information from when he says British soldiers in Afghanistan are making the UK safe? Is it from the same people that said there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?

Laurence Barnett

via email

The US has never been able to function without an enemy at the gate and the mysterious al-Qa'ida and its leader Bin Laden fit the bill perfectly, permitting a few decades of crusading and another line of films for Hollywood. The truth is hardly ever a consideration.

Graham Casey

posted online

Nobody wants a foreign army occupying, or even seeming to occupy, their country. One of my main memories from serving in the British Army in Palestine in 1947-48 was that neither Jews nor Arabs wanted us to be there. The sooner we start to make an organised exit, the better.

Eric Lund

Biggleswade, Bedfordshire

There are certain principles that have to be followed in order to conduct a successful war. The most important is "the selection and maintenance of the aim". Over the years we have been told, among other things, that the troops were there to build a modern infrastructure, surely an engineering problem, or to disrupt the drugs trade, as ridiculous as King Canute's attempt with the sea. We need to pull our troops out now to save lives and money, and concentrate on improving relationships between all of us who live in Britain.

Chris Hooper

via email

We seem to be stuck between common sense and our misplaced loyalty to America. Why not follow our Canadian friends?

Jean Bartleet

via email

Patrick Cockburn's excellent analysis should be compulsory reading for UK politicians of every party.

L Lawrence

via email

The sight of everyone on television wearing poppies for the past two weeks (even the dancers on Strictly Come Dancing on Saturday) I found sickening. Enough! Bring our soldiers home immediately.

Brenda Murphy

via email

Should we withdraw? Yes.

Yvette Morris

via email

Losing face is not a sufficiently good reason to continue with a strategy that clearly is not working, and those who stand to lose face are not in a position to make objective decisions about whether or not we should withdraw.

Dennis Rigg

via email

Violence only begets violence. If any progress is to be made, we have to persuade the Taliban and al-Qa'ida to sit down round a negotiating table. A phased withdrawal is essential.

Chris Reeve

Chester

There has never been a truthful rationale for this war. It is a relic of George Bush's lunacy and US foreign-policy madness. The UK needs to stop, once and for all, crawling to the United States.

Ian Dunlop

Staplecross, East Sussex

Improving the lot of individual Afghanis is not the job of the military, nor are they trained or equipped for it. We are not confronting a direct threat and cannot hope to re-shape that splintered nation into a Western-style democracy. Our focus should be on Pakistan.

John Staniforth

via email

If one carried out an evidence-based risk assessment of security threats on Britain's streets, it is likely that Pakistan and the failed state of Somalia, which has also been penetrated by al-Qa'ida, would emerge as far greater threats than Afghanistan. Our resources should be redirected to address poverty, failure of governance and environmental degradation in these countries.

Joseph Mullen

East Dean, East Sussex

I regret that no one is putting real pressure on those who appear to provide funds for Taliban arms and ammunition. Additionally, the West should take genuine steps to promote an impartial policy on the Israeli occupation of land, which is illegal according to international law. If we wish to reduce the threat from Islamic extremists, such approaches could benefit considerably more than continuing with an armed conflict that is unwinnable and no longer justified.

Satish Desai OBE

South Croydon, Surrey

With President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan so weakened after the election, the US may be able to force anti-corruption measures and get the Afghan government working. With an effective strategy, this is far from the unwinnable war you make out, while the importance of Afghanistan to a region so poised on a knife-edge is hard to overstate.

David Adams

Cambridge

In the case of a misdeed, one seeks justice in some legal way. This is not best achieved by war or invasion of other countries, but by targeting those individuals or groups involved through the host country.

Graham Duff

via email

Pakistan is where the training camps are. The young men there have no future. If they or their families are offered money by the Taliban to go and fight in Afghanistan, they are only too happy to go. Our forces should be withdrawn immediately. This is not our war. We cannot solve the problems of poverty and corruption in these countries.

Christine Veling

via email

I support the case for the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan.

D Wilton

High Legh, Cheshire

I wish to get the forces from Afghanistan.

D M Dight (ex-serviceman)

Birmingham

No invader has succeeded in quelling the essentially tribal nature of Afghan conflict. For British troops to die for such ill-conceived mission objectives is truly immoral. It seems wrong that Staff Sergeant Olaf Schmid should die while a pompous former PM strides the world stage.

Neil Shurety

Via email

I am distraught about the loss of so many of our soldiers, the cost, and the lack of an exit strategy.

Robert Crowther

via email

At 71 years of age, my husband and I have lived through many wars, none of which has benefited anyone. This latest debacle must be brought to an end immediately. No one can win.

Jennifer and Gordon Diffey

via email

It is a pity that Alex Salmond does not have control over our Scottish troops – he is the only politician that had the guts to stand up to the Iraq fiasco and is now the man who is calling for a rethink on Afghanistan. Brown seems to be waiting for Obama.

Susan Aeron

via email

A scale-down of operations will be a victory for al-Qa'ida. We should stay, and strengthen our forces. Afghanistan is not Iraq – the British and the US have to take the loyalty of the tribes into consideration, and get to a political solution without reducing the military pressure.

Sanjay Panda

via email

We should limit our activities to training the Afghan forces and police and not to fighting an insurgency which can never succeed.

D W Massey

via email

For every soldier of the occupying force that dies, a number of Afghans die too. This is never mentioned. It is time the war ended.

Rosanna Casorerio

via email

For the UK to say now, after eight years, that British troops must train newly recruited Afghani policemen, looks like too little, too late. The damage to the local inhabitants from the military presence must be taken into account. They are certainly more motivated now to convert from a benign, moralistic form of Islam to one of religious extremism.

Derek J Hudson

Wincanton, Somerset

We should never have gone. The demands being placed on our armed forces are unreasonable. We should leave this miserable and corrupt country without delay.

Ronald and Rosie Coia

via email

This war could not be more wrong. Thank you for your continued reporting of the truth.

John Maguire

via email

Afghanistan is a country which traditionally has been governed by local rulers. The population has no trust in the corrupt government in Kabul. If America does not soon announce a phased withdrawal, this war will end as ignominiously as did the war in Vietnam.

Valerie Crews

Beckenham, Kent

I urge our discredited Government to bring all our personnel out of that god-forsaken region, and deploy them to protect our own gaping borders and entry points.

Valerie Hughes

via email

Not one politician has provided the evidence of planned terrorist attacks from Afghanistan. We must not forget the innocent Afghanis who have been killed and injured.

Ken Rogers

via email

Afghanistan is governed by warlords, and we are paying a heavy price in lives to keep them in power. It is time for us to bring our lads home, and concentrate instead on securing our own boundaries.

Terry Squires

Pontyclun, Mid Glamorgan

We should leave, and the US should too, and thereafter we should provide aid of the kind that the people will receive directly.

Gregor Palmer

via email

The British troops are on a hiding to nothing. Of course we should withdraw our men and leave Afghanistan to sort itself out.

Jan Moor

East Molesey, Surrey

Our troops are suffering and dying for no rational worthy cause and should be brought home now. Our resources would be better employed on advanced intelligence, particularly in Pakistan and the Pakistani communities living in the UK.

Trevor Nichols

via email

It is seldom too late to change things; bring home the troops now.

Henrik Irgens

London N6

The politicians and academics: 'It's time for tea, not guns – the only reasonable exit is via talks'

The conflict is now one of Britain's longest military campaigns of the past 100 years. We asked leading thinkers and policy-makers whether Britain's continued involvement can be justified, and what sort of legacy we can hope to leave behind

Dr Pervaiz Nazir Lecturer in international relations, University of Cambridge

"Britain should withdraw its forces from Afghanistan. Prevention of attacks on Britain is best served by better policing and intelligence, not by attacking and occupying Afghanistan. Though the intentions of some militants in Britain to carry out attacks might not abate for some time after British forces leave Afghanistan, their motives for violence would be considerably weakened. Attack on and occupation of Afghanistan –as in Iraq – gives the violent ideology of militants its operative sense.

"The withdrawal of British and coalition forces is crucial to ending the death and destruction in Afghanistan, and to creating conditions for the re-emergence of a reconstituted Afghan state. This requires three approaches. First: a phased withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan within a period of one year, to be replaced simultaneously by peace-keeping forces from Muslim countries drawn from the near region and beyond (Pakistan, Iran, Turkey and Indonesia, among others). The date of withdrawal should be announced along with a ceasefire. Second: an interim government should be established, comprised of representatives of the various political parties, ethno-linguistic sub-nationalities, and the Taliban of all predispositions. Third: general elections/referendums to be held within one or two years of the interim government under the aegis of the UN. Before British forces leave, they can familiarise forces replacing them with local knowledge for peace-keeping purposes, and compensate the destruction of humans and material through medical relief, and rebuilding or enhancing the infrastructure of localities."

Nick Clegg Leader, Liberal Democrats

"In calling for withdrawal from Afghanistan, The Independent on Sunday has reflected the increasing anxieties of people about the war. But I want troops to come home with their heads held high, having succeeded, not to limp home defeated. The knock-on effects of failure for the region, for the credibility of Nato, and for security here at home would be profound. That is why, while the chance of success remains, we must continue to back the action in Afghanistan. That chance exists because we expect a wholly new strategy from President Obama in the coming weeks.

"The war in Afghanistan has proved so difficult because our soldiers have not had the backing of the strong civil and political strategy necessary to bring peace to this war-ravaged country. The challenge for Obama's strategy is enormous, but he may meet it. The key ingredient for success is pressure on President Karzai to devolve power and create a more inclusive political system, as well as cracking down on corruption. Then, our troops should shift to protecting population centres rather than remote desert outposts, and we must start a properly funded reconciliation plan with moderate elements of the Taliban. Finally, we need effective diplomatic engagement from neighbouring powers such as China, Russia and Iran. Only if all of this is in place would it be worth sending more troops.

"This is the level of change needed from President Obama. It will be our last chance of success. If he delivers the plan we have long argued for, it will deserve our support. But if he does not, withdrawal will become the only option."

Gordon Brown Prime Minister

"We are so proud of the work that our troops do in Afghanistan. They are committed, they are brave, they are utterly professional. What we have to do is show people, first, why we are in Afghanistan – that there is a chain of terror which comes from the Pakistan-Afghan mountains that could threaten the streets of London. Then we have to show people that, with the great commitment, energy and expertise of our armed forces, we have a plan to ensure that the Afghans can take more control of their own affairs, so that over time our troops can come home. I applaud the extreme bravery of every member of our armed forces in Afghanistan, particularly in the most difficult circumstances, where three-quarters of deaths are due to explosive devices."

Robert D Crews Associate professor of history, Stanford University, US; co-editor of The Taliban and the Crisis of Afghanistan

"Foreign troops, whatever their number, will not resolve a civil war and a regional crisis. Fighting is unlikely to eliminate the heterogeneous groups that make up the guerrillas. Focused narrowly on military strategy, Nato has neglected promising political solutions.

"The only realistic way forward is to shift focus to a non-military initiative, aimed at compromise. Nato should negotiate with and integrate the pragmatists among the militants. A neutral party such as the UN must be entrusted with a broad programme of reconciliation and disarmament (to include Taliban as well as US- allied strongmen). It should push the Afghans to revise the flawed constitution imposed by the US. Afghanistan needs a federal system that empowers the provinces and accommodates progressive actors. The only reasonable exit is through talks, not only in Kandahar, but in Islamabad, New Delhi, and Tehran. It is time for tea, not guns."

Harry Cohen Labour MP

"I support The Independent on Sunday's position on this matter. I only wish there were a vote in Parliament in order to express it in that way. I am opposed to the continued presence of foreign troops, including ours, in Afghanistan. It is now an ill-thought-out occupation. History shows it is likely to be futile, too. The deaths of many Afghan civilians and UK troops in this context are an amoral outrage. I supported the effort to remove the feudal, vicious Taliban in 2001, but that was in the context of 9/11. It was also promised that there would be a swift, massive development programme. That has not happened. Iraq happened instead. After that, it is impossible to return to the opportunity the initial change promised. The battle for the hearts and minds of vast numbers of Afghans has been lost. We should leave and save lives. But we should still promise money for development aims."

David Cameron Leader, Conservative Party

"Every day our troops in Afghanistan are showing huge courage and dedication, and the whole country is incredibly proud of them. Let's be clear why we're there. We're not there to deliver the perfect democracy. We're not there to deliver a sort of Switzerland in the Hindu Kush.

"We are there because when that country was run by the Taliban, there were terrorist training camps which trained terrorists who blew people up on British streets and on 9/11. When you look through the background of those terrorists from 9/11, who killed so many British citizens as well as Americans, many of them had been through a terrorist training camp in Afghanistan. So let's be clear about that. And let's look at the options. I don't think we can go on as we are.

"We are losing a bit of ground, taking a bit of ground, losing the lives of our brave soldiers, and we're not making the progress that we need to. I don't think we should pull out. I think if we pulled out tomorrow the Taliban would take over, if not the whole country a good part of it. And they would probably take over a good part of Pakistan, which has a nuclear weapon.

"So I think the right option is, with our American and Nato allies, to have a proper counter-insurgency operation. It is crucial that we train up the Afghan army to take over the security of their country and to convince Afghans that their future is not necessarily the perfect democracy, but it's not the Taliban. Then we will be able to bring our troops back home."

Professor Sultan Barakat Director, Post-war Reconstruction and Development Unit, University of York

"In late 2008, seven years after a terrorist cell based in Afghanistan directed the atrocities of 9/11, I was asked to lead a strategic conflict assessment for the British government's Understanding Afghanistan initiative. Operation Enduring Freedom, the US military response to the terrorist attacks, began only 26 days after those atrocities. While it took seven years to make an attempt to understand the needs of a people embroiled in ongoing conflict for more than 20 years, the West's objectives for intervention had been decided long before.

"The war has not, and cannot, be won if the international community continues to push its own objectives over local priorities. We aimed to create a designer democracy, but failed to explore what such a democracy would look like if it was designed by Afghans. We pushed a liberal economic agenda on a people who were not ready to compete with a global market, having endured 20 years of war, destruction and displacement. This policy has resulted in an increased dependence of the rural poor on subsistence farming, leaving many to turn to the cultivation of poppies, which we now see as our problem again.

"The election was not an Afghan priority; it was a Western objective, to show people back home that democracy was alive and kicking in Afghanistan. The estimated $300m that was spent on the election would have been better used responding to the needs to the Afghan people, namely health and education.

"This war can be won, but only if the reconstruction effort takes a new approach."

Dr Cheryl Benard Director, Initiative for Middle Eastern Youth, RAND Center for Middle East Public Policy, US

"There is a clear way forward. We need to continue to engage the Afghan government and support the build-up of its national army and other institutions, but we need to be aware that the Afghan elites are a big part of the problem, entangled in their own agendas and benefiting in many ways from the prolonged strife and chaos. Therefore, we must work directly with those forces in the country who truly want progress and the rule of law, and who genuinely oppose all the things that have the country in a strangle-hold: tribalism, drug lords, corruption and opportunism. These forces are amply present. Some are willing to form local "freedom fighter" militias to oppose the Taliban, others are ready to form responsible local administrations. There is even an incipient movement, the Afghan Manifesto Party, with supporters countrywide. It is the Afghans who need to take back, and defend, their own freedom. We can help, but if we try to do it for them, this project will fail."

Alex Salmond First Minister of Scotland

"There is great support for the troops on the ground, but no confidence in the UK government's strategy in pursuing the conflict. There needs to be a fundamental reassessment of the role, mission and overarching strategy of UK forces operating in Afghanistan. Nothing should be off the table, and that should include the possibility of withdrawal.

"That review is now urgently required because there is a need to win hearts and minds here at home, as well as the support of people in Afghanistan.

"The Taliban were meant to have been defeated eight years ago, but the fact that the fighting has got worse underlines the folly of the Blair government's decision to take us into Iraq. Distracted by the Iraq quagmire, the UK government took its eye off the ball in Afghanistan. Now, the awful toll of military personnel killed in Afghanistan, along with questions over the legitimacy of the Afghan elections, has left people asking just what our forces are fighting for."

Robert I Rotberg Director, Program on Intrastate Conflict, Harvard Kennedy School, US; editor, Building a New Afghanistan

"In 2009, we find a vastly corrupt state and regime, less good governance than five years ago, weak rule of law, and, still, a nation state that functions poorly. If we give up the war effort now we will deliver the Afghans back into the righteous and fundamentalist hands of the Taliban. We would also plunge Afghanistan back into a state of civil war.

"But the overriding reason we should stay is that the war can be won. With renewed attention under Barack Obama, and the new co-operation of Pakistan, we should be able to close the border to the Talibs who flit back and forth at will. We should be able to cleanse southern Afghanistan of Talibs, and then hold those areas. Simultaneously, we can win hearts and minds by creating unskilled jobs (to compete with the Taliban) and by providing cash incentives for farmers to grow wheat instead of poppies. We should give this renewed and ramped-up effort another two years before forfeiting our obligations to the Afghan people."

Adam Holloway Conservative MP; member, Defence Select Committee and former Grenadier Guard

"What we call 'the Taliban' includes the extremists, but most of them are just ordinary farmers' sons united in hatred of foreigners and distant government. The Afghans have a ferocious sense of independence and will always bitterly resist any attempt by a foreign force to occupy their lands.

"Second, Afghanistan is not a sovereign, unified state presided over by a central government. Rather, it is a vast land mass run by different tribes whose loyalties are constantly shifting, and where the writ of the government is weak.

"Third, a large proportion of the Afghan population is deeply traditional and resistant to change.

"What I advocate is not a complete withdrawal, but rather the reduction of our forces to the point where we have a strike capability against enemies who threaten our people. We are now very good at electronic intelligence and hitting pinpoint targets from a long distance. We do not need vast armies of troops in the desert. We also should lower the flames of the insurgency through deals with local tribal leaders, backed up by a generous development programme. One of our spies told me that a decent political officer, with the right backup, a generous budget and plenty of time to drink tea with commanders and tribal elders, could reduce violence in Helmand by 70 per cent. That could work if the political will is behind it."

Elfyn Llwyd Westminster leader, Plaid Cymru

"The military isn't being given any clear direction, or adequate equipment, and carrying on there is extremely dangerous and irresponsible.

"What is the current strategy? The Prime Minister has now promised more helicopters. Read the small print, however, and you realise that these will be delivered 'over the next three years'. How many more servicemen will have died in that time?

"We are now facing one of the longest military campaigns of the past 100 years and the Government has to show it has the grace to acknowledge a no-win situation. Is political pride more important than public opinion and the lives of our soldiers? To top it all, this week the US ambassador to Afghanistan expressed his concerns to President Obama about deploying additional American troops.

"Plaid Cymru opposed the war from the very start but, nine years on, it's become more unclear what the aims are. Matters are made worse by the huge numbers of service personnel making the ultimate sacrifice to prop up a corrupt government.

"Afghanistan has never been a democracy. It has been a tribal society for centuries and I do not think it is possible to impose a democratic system on a country in this way – something which could take decades in any case.

"The blood price is simply too high. I believe that the Prime Minister owes it to the troops, their families and the public to present a clear and timetabled exit strategy."

Anatol Lieven Professor of international relations and terrorism studies, King's College London

"Only one question is of real significance: whether, within three to five years, we can turn the Afghan National Army (ANA) into a force capable of holding the main Afghan population centres against the Taliban. No other institution in Afghanistan can be made effective in the limited time available. Talk of 'cracking down on corruption' in the Karzai administration is idiocy.

"To strengthen the ANA should be possible in principle. After all, the Soviets managed in the 1980s to turn 'their' Afghan army into an effective fighting force. However, that was also a genuinely multi-ethnic force, including many Pashtuns. The present ANA is overwhelmingly dominated by non-Pashtuns.

"Unless that is changed and many more Pashtuns recruited and promoted to senior rank, the ANA will be able to defend the non-Pashtun north of Afghanistan against Taliban attack, but will not be able to hold down the Pashtun areas. In this case, we would face the de facto partition of Afghanistan along ethnic lines, with the Taliban dominating the Pashtun areas.

"It is worth us fighting on for a few years in an effort to strengthen the ANA. But we need a 'plan B'; and we should immediately establish contacts with the Taliban leadership, so as to lay the groundwork for future negotiations on Western withdrawal and Afghan partition, should this become unavoidable."

Interviews by Paul Bignell

The military: 'Bring them home before more blood is spilt'

What do some of our former senior officers think? And what are ordinary soldiers saying on the Army Rumour Service website?

Maj Gen Patrick Cordingley Commanded the 7th Armoured Brigade in the first Gulf War

"We are at a tactical stalemate. Without more troops, it will be very difficult to achieve more militarily. Forty thousand more would be extremely helpful and would help hold areas that we've had to give back to the Taliban. You can be fairly certain that General McChrystal [the US commander of allied forces in Afghanistan] will be asking for another 40,000 in a year's time. So I have a feeling that more soldiers on the ground isn't the solution. A huge strategic effort needs to take place to involve nearby nations to help resolve this problem: Russia, Pakistan, India, Iran, to a certain extent China and, possibly as a mediator, Saudi Arabia.

"Within this framework, there should be a big effort to talk to the Taliban hierarchy, in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Only the Americans have the capability to do this. Without it, you end up with the same situation that's gone on for the last 150 years – you have a lawless country that remains squashed between various major players on the international scene in the region. If you can't work out the major strategic impetus that is necessary, it is quite possible that there is no point in putting more troops into Afghanistan."

General Sir Hugh Beach Former deputy commander of British Land Forces

"It would be best to concentrate on a security operation in a number of areas and withdraw from a number of the more dangerous places. Then over time, we wind our combat capabilities down but simultaneously build up more and more of the mentoring for the Afghan army and the police service. I am not saying I would recommend it, but it's a perfectly rational approach to think about withdrawing."

Field Marshall Lord Bramall Former chief of the general staff

"We can't just walk away. I think any sensible person is not looking for any immediate withdrawal, but a mid-term exit strategy, with our heads held reasonably high. Although it's not a military war that you can win in the long term, you have to try to negotiate some sort of settlement – and you have to do it with Pakistan. The real problem is that al-Qa'ida is not in Afghanistan, so the people we are trying to rat out have gone, but they are in Pakistan.

"I thought there was going to be a short-term surge to give people a bit more protection, better-directed aid, more deals and negotiations – looking forward to a time when we could have a security force made up of indigenous forces, so we wouldn't leave the Afghan people in the lurch. However, the Americans don't seem to have made their minds up. It's extraordinary that the American ambassador has said 'we don't need any more troops'."

"I firmly believe it is time to bring our troops home... I commend Cockburn [IoS writer Patrick Cockburn] for being braver than the political and military leadership in UK in calling for withdrawal. Brave, because what do we say to the families who have lost loved ones, or to those who have been horribly injured or mutilated in the course of their service?"

nigegilb

"As someone said this morning 'the arguments have fallen away, one by one' ... To say 'we might have been right then, knowing what we knew, but are in fact now wrong' takes extraordinary courage."

BoomShackerLacker

"It makes me laugh that Gordon Brown thinks us being there is keeping our streets safe from radicals. It is making it worse! We should be looking within our own borders to deal with the radicals in our own country, not pissing about where we have little chance of winning anyway."

Fallschirmjager

"The simple facts are that to remain a major power we have to be the US's lapdog and that means remaining in Afghanistan and trotting after Uncle Sam in all his future expeditions to the Middle East. I can see troops in Somalia, Pakistan and Saudi in the upcoming years. It's either the maintaining of our special relationship or we become a meaningless little island in the Atlantic, neither a real part of Europe nor the principal junior ally to the world's great power."

R.McClaw

"It is a battle that will be ongoing, there can't be a victor. History tells the world that when you are in battle with a group of people who don't give a ***k whether they live or die, then it's a big problem."

nottotouchtheearth

"The Government [should] either give the armed forces the resources to do the job or we get out. Because right now it looks like we are trying to fight a raging fire with a water pistol. I didn't agree with going in in the first place, but we are beyond a reason to be there now."

Hakagure

"History has taught the politicians nothing. We simply cannot win in Afghanistan. Bring them home before any more blood is spilt for a cause that is simply not worth it. We had no choice with the Second World War, but we do with Afghanistan."

bombdr2494

"We need to stay in Afghanistan long enough to ensure that it will not fall back into the hands of the Taliban. Otherwise, the entire country will once again become a safe haven and launch platform for state-sponsored terrorism as well as a training ground for foreign malcontents. If that happens, Pakistan won't be long in following, with all the serious implications that entails."

Dunservin

"We won't beat the TB [Taliban] in a staring contest any time soon. With endless recruitment from bordering countries, most obviously Pakistan, the Taliban will just keep coming and coming until we pull out claiming 'victory'. Might as well make the same move now and save lives."

LiamP

"I'm not sure if we should cut and run but it does seem to me unless Karzai and the warlords start having unfortunate accidents we are pushing uphill. While the government and warlords are creaming off millions, the status quo won't change."

eveyoz

"If our generals speak out they get vilified by the politicians and liberal elite, but if they don't speak out the politicians use the silence as approval. Unfortunately, they aren't allowed to say that the mission is a shoddy one because that's a slap in the face to all of our dead comrades."

PoisonDwarf

"Success should not be measured simply by a military victory... The process of establishing peace in Afghanistan is certainly arduous, but not impossible. Sixty different countries involved in Afghanistan are striving to make a better life for Afghans, however it takes decades and centuries for societies to develop."

Spank-it

"I'd see current US policy as trying to get out of AFG [Afghanistan] as soon as possible without losing too much face. The blood and treasure expended isn't worth it; but more importantly it renders the US strategically and militarily over-stretched."

One_of_the_strange

"I am sick of seeing wives, girlfriends, kiddies etc having to mourn the loss of a loved one coming home with a flag over their coffin while Cnut Brown & Ainsworthless continue to ramble on about how much more the UK is safe because we are there. Bring them home now, I say, before many more lives are lost."

DJ_Mera

"Finally, you're all starting to see the light. Troops out, aye."

Jip Travolta

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