Sandy Gall: Unlike Iraq, the Afghan war is winnable

The Strategy: 'Most Afghans do not want the Taliban back in power'

Share

A report that senior generals are pressing the Government to withdraw British troops from Iraq in order to beef up our commitment in Afghanistan underlines how desperately we need more soldiers there. But with the Americans against any British withdrawal from Iraq, and most European allies too chicken to fight in the south, we are piggy in the middle.

Hence the dire forecasts of failure now so commonplace. Worryingly, they are based not so much on pub punditry as on the flow of angry emails from officers in the thick of fighting in Helmand Province and other parts of the south. RAF close air support had been "utterly, utterly useless", according to Major Jamie Loden of 3 Para in a leaked email about the battle for opium town Sangin. A female Harrier pilot "couldn't identify the target", he wrote, fired two phosphorus rockets that just missed the British compound and then strafed their perimeter, "missing the enemy by 200 metres". Another British officer who criticised the RAF's performance said the American A10 pilots had been, by comparison, first-class.

This is ironic, since the American Air Force has been much criticised for repeated incidents of "friendly fire". In one notorious case, elders driving to Kabul for President Karzai's inauguration were mistaken for a Taliban convoy and shot to pieces. Dozens were killed or wounded. Most of these incidents have occurred in the Pushtun south and east, the Taliban heartland, and have done enormous damage to Karzai who, although a Pushtun, is often accused of being an American stooge.

And yet he has won two elections for the presidency with no challenger in sight and, until about a year ago, the country seemed on the road to relative peace and prosperity. So what has gone wrong? In a word, Iraq. Having bombed the Taliban out of power in 2001, less than two years later the Americans were diverting men, money and attention to Iraq. The switch has proved costly. Reconstruction, which was just beginning, stalled. There seemed to be no money or will to keep the wheels turning.

A government adviser from the province of Paktika told me no one was stopping Taliban infiltration from Pakistan because border guards were not being paid. "They leave their barracks in the morning to go and do a job somewhere else... It's the only way they can feed their families... A few thousand dollars would solve the problem."

This situation is mirrored all over the south. In Helmand, Afghanistan's biggest province and its biggest opium producer, there was practically no support for the government or police when the British arrived. US troops concentrated solely on the hunt for Osama bin Laden. The field was left wide open to an alliance of Taliban and drug-runners. The drug gangs gave the Taliban cash in return for protection. This was the hornets' nest into which 3 Para and the rest of the British spearhead were dropped last summer.

And yet, despite the odds, the corner may well have been turned. In a series of recent battles, the British and Canadians have inflicted heavy casualties on the Taliban. Most Afghans do not want the Taliban back in power. They reject their vision of society as a dead end. But they are swing voters. They need to be convinced the Afghan government, Nato and the international community can deliver jobs, a living wage, and security.

Unlike Iraq, the Afghan war is winnable, although it will be tough. But as soon as Lt-Gen David Richards, Britain's overall Nato commander, gains control of the battlefield and generates security across the country, which he is confident he can do, reconstruction and development must take off.

Sandy Gall, formerly of ITN, is chairman of Sandy Gall's Afghanistan Appeal, which treats disabled Afghans

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: Lead Quality Auditor

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Identifying and communicating issues raised, p...

Recruitment Genius: Weekend Catering Supervisor - Temporary

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: To be responsible for working with the Caterin...

Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - Infrastructure / VMWare - Hertfordshire

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established industry leading business is l...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Hertfordshire -Large Established Business

£22000 - £28000 per annum + study support, gym: Ashdown Group: A large busines...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The TV non-debate: Miliband does better than expected, but not better than Cameron

John Rentoul
Nigel Farage is pictured leaving the pub after the invasion by protesters  

How does terrifying my family count as ‘good-natured protest’?

Nigel Farage
The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss