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

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

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Letter from the Deputy Editor: i’s Review of the Year

Andrew Webster
RIP Voicemail?  

Voicemail has got me out of some tight corners, so let's not abandon it

Simon Kelner
A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all