What is Britain trying to achieve in Afghanistan?

UK strategy seems to depend on who you ask, and when you ask it


The 'noblesse oblige' strategy


"Too often in the past, the people of Afghanistan have been dealt a raw deal by the international community ... Treated as a plaything of the great powers in the 19th century, the intervention of the former Soviet Union and the West during the cold war has left them knowing little but war, poverty and chaos ... We will not turn our backs on the people of Afghanistan again."



Jack Straw



Former Foreign Secretary



October 2001

The 'poppy' strategy

"We estimate that 90 per cent of the heroin sold on the streets of the United Kingdom has its origins in Afghanistan ... The route involves terrorists and criminals and the trade allows many terrorist organisations to purchase their arms. We are absolutely determined to continue the pressure and effort to deal with the origins of the trade in Afghanistan and with the route of heroin back to the United Kingdom."

Geoff Hoon

Former Defence Secretary

June 2002

The 'nation building' strategy

"Our mission to Afghanistan is primarily reconstruction ... Of course, our mission is not counter-terrorism ... We are in the south to help and protect the Afghan people construct their own democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years and without firing one shot because our job is to protect the reconstruction."

John Reid

Former Defence Secretary

April 2006

The 'aid and trade' strategy

"Our Afghanistan country plan focuses on four areas where we are best placed to provide support ... building an effective state; encouraging economic growth; providing alternatives to poppy growing; and promoting stability and development in Helmand ... We will strengthen our focus on gender ... The commitment of £510m over the next four years, confirms us as the second largest bilateral donor in Afghanistan."

Douglas Alexander

International development secretary

April 2009

The 'education, education, education' strategy

"I think this mission is important too for the education of people in that country. There are now six million children in school in Afghanistan while in early 2001 there were only one million. Our troops have led the way, working with other international forces, in making that possible. They are paving the way for economic development, for a more secure democracy as well as security in the region and the world."

Harriet Harman

Minister for Women and Equality

July 2009

The 'wear them down' strategy

"We're going to have a very long-term commitment to Afghanistan's future. This is not just one year; this is going to be for decades. We're going to help them get to a state which they can ward off the return of the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. That's our strategic objective. We need to avoid the vacuum returning. And that's what this huge effort is about.''

Sir Nigel Sheinwald

British ambassador to the US

July 2009

The 'we have to be realistic' strategy

"Naively, many people took the view that we would turn it into a Western-style democracy ... We'd all love to have equal opportunities ... to have perfect human rights ... but is that achievable anywhere? I mean, how long has it taken a mature democracy in the West to get to that stage? Hundreds of years, and we're trying to say we can achieve that in 10."

Brigadier Ed Butler

Mastermind of UK strategy against the Taliban in Helmand

August 2009

The 'stay the course' strategy

"We must be seen to win. We can't creep away now. I get a real sense the West and Nato can't be seen to fail. We have to do it with some dignity, like in Iraq ... We owe it to the Afghan people and the soldiers who've given their lives [to stay]. I think the biggest problem now is public support."

Colonel Clive Fairweather

Former SAS Commander

August 2009

The 'keeping Britain safe' strategy

"It is to make Britain safe and the rest of the world safe that we must make sure we honour our commitment to maintain a stable Afghanistan ... It is only by supporting the Afghan government and its security forces to bring stability that we can prevent Afghanistan becoming the haven for terrorists it once was, protecting Britain from attack and promoting peace across the region."

Gordon Brown

Prime Minister

August 2009

The 'hearts and minds' strategy

"We will ... have to deal through good and bad days, and good and bad months, and that's the tragedy of seeing so many Afghan civilians killed or so many coalition forces killed. This is a job that takes not only resolve, it takes patience and it takes courage ... There's not the sudden lightning move that captures an enemy capital. You're actually fighting to convince people to support their government."

General Stanley McChrystal

Commander of US and Nato forces in Afghanistan

August 2009

The 'we're winning, whatever that means' strategy

"We are making progress ... The troops know that we have made progress in the last few months and I still firmly believe that Afghanistan is winnable. We can get this country to a place where they are able to protect their own security and prevent the Taliban's return."

Bob Ainsworth

Defence Secretary

August 2009

The 'talk to the Taliban' strategy

"[The new government] must ... reconcile and reintegrate insurgents prepared to give up violence. They need to separate socially conservative Pashtuns prepared to abide by the constitution from the hard core who support or host global jihadis. They ... must give more people the chance to switch sides and stay out of trouble, alongside tougher action against those who refuse."

David Miliband

Foreign Secretary

August 2009

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