David Cameron says 'Mission Accomplished,' but are Afghanistan veterans really 'proud'?

'Murders, kidnaps, opium production, bombing and the molesting of young boys. All of them are up since 2001'

Share
Related Topics

David Cameron has been making work for his spin doctors once again and in doing so he has surpassed even his own lofty standards. The great man has gone Full Mission Accomplished and, as George Bush learned in the immediate wake of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, one should never, ever go Full Mission Accomplished. The troops, he added, can come home “proud” and with their “heads held high”.

But given that veterans are notoriously tribal and serving soldier are prevented from speaking to the media by military law, what is their response? I asked a number of Afghanistan veterans - some still serving, some not - what they thought about a war which they experienced first-hand - a war which has become notorious for its shifting aims.

Cameron rehashed the argument that British troops have been fighting and dying to provide a basic level of security in the Central Asian country. Ben Wright, 28, is ideally positioned to address this claim. He previously served three tours of Afghanistan as a Royal Marine Commando, was blown up by an IED, recovered, redeployed and received a commendation for his operational service.

His review of the mission’s achievements is less glowing than that of Cameron: “Murders, kidnaps, opium production, bombing, the molesting of young boys, are all up since 2001.” I asked him how clear the military goals were to him and his comrades. “We were hastily deployed, one week’s operational training and very little background information on local population and their history. We were told about women's rights and the opium trade but again nothing to make clear why we were being sent.”

Ben does not think the mission has been accomplished. “I think the security of our country has been jeopardised by our involvement in Afghanistan. I am not proud…this is not a job well done. It wasn’t a job that needed doing.”

Glenn Humphries, also 28, previously served in the British army and went to Afghanistan in 2006 with 16 Air Assault Brigade. I asked him how he thought success might be measured. “For instance…” He said “…do the Afghanis have a better life now than before? Has the drugs trade stopped? Is the country now flourishing with trade and culture? And are the people now getting a better education?”

Glenn was also quite clear about what he thought he was going to Afghanistan to achieve and again it contrasts sharply with Cameron’s claim about security. “To find Osama bin Laden…” He told me “…and last time I checked he got away from Afghanistan.”

I also spoke to soldiers who are still serving and cannot be named for fear of persecution by the military. One returned from Afghanistan late last year and has no illusions about the occupations achievements: “I think old David has been reading George Bush's autobiography again,” he quipped. “I find it hard to see we have accomplished anything.”

“Cameron,” he continues “seems to be talking about such a small percentage of the country. I know for a fact that most of the farming population in Nari Saraj, down in Helmand, have gone back to growing opium.”

He puts little stock in Cameron’s claim that basic levels of security have been established: “They have to grow opium and do what the Taliban say or starve. Once the Taliban move back into those areas, I highly doubt the corrupt local police & army are going to make much of a stand.” And his view on legacy of the war he took part in? “The only thing we accomplished was adding a few hundred names onto a wall in the National Memorial Arboretum.”

He never really knew why he was going to Afghanistan in the first place. “I’ll go with what it says on my NATO medal, 'In the service of peace & freedom'. I guess to bring peace & freedom to a people oppressed by the evils of terrorism. That’s the bollocks I once believed anyway.” He added.

Another serving soldier was even more withering in his appraisal. “I have no f*cking idea which of the many commercial media stated 'missions' we completed”. He said. “To my knowledge, Osama was in Pakistan, opium production has rocketed, the Taliban presence has increased, the hearts and minds of the locals are all broken – we’re leaving an unsustainable and unwinnable war for a conscripted, corrupt army”.

Given his fiery response, I pressed him further on Cameron’s claims. “If the mission was to impose terror on a nation,” he said, “we achieved it. You can't fault his ability to mislead the public.”

Not quite the stuff of David Cameron’s patriotic imagination. Former marine Ben Wright who seems to best capture the confused and angry mood of men who are still trying to figure what the war was all about. “How can we say it is mission accomplished, when we don’t know what the mission was?”

Joe Glenton refused to serve a second tour in Afghanistan on legal and moral grounds, later spending five months in military prison. His book, 'Soldier Box', is published by Verso.

React Now

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Errors & Omissions: A widow’s tale with an unexpected twist

John Rentoul
 

For all his faults, Russell Brand is utterly sincere, something politicians should emulate

Janet Street-Porter
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

How to make your own Easter egg

Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

Cricket World Cup 2015

Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing