Tim Collins: Afghanistan remains a worthy cause

If we shrink from the fight, subversion and chaos will come to the streets of Europe

Share
Related Topics

With 184 men dead as a result of our involvement in the campaign in Afghanistan, many will now be asking: is it worth the effort? The bland riposte is always: "If we don't win the fight there we will have to fight it here." Unlike most spin that flows like a mighty river from the Government, this bit is actually true.

Critics will also point out that we have been engaged in this fight for eight years, and they invoke memories of failed British campaigns of the 19th century and the Soviet failure in the 1980s. One must deal with the facts here, however.

Technically we have been at war for eight years, but in reality this needs to be seen as a series of much shorter but connected campaigns. The first period was overwhelmingly successful. It looked terminal for the insurgents. But any doctor will tell you that if you have an infection – and an insurgency is an infection – you have to finish the course of medication, even if the symptoms disappear. If you do not, the infection will come back, more virulent and now impervious to the medication used previously.

In 2003, the coalition, on the point of annihilating the Taliban and al-Qa'ida, stopped, withdrew massive numbers of forces and support, and threw the lot at Iraq. That was never meant to be a long war. But it was. And as it dragged on, the infection of Taliban and al-Qa'ida stabilised and then once more flourished. This led to the second era where a woefully underfunded coalition tried desperately to pretend all was well even as the Taliban marched back from exile.

The third period began on 31 July 2006 when Nato became involved, taking over operations in the south of Afghanistan. In reality it was the usual suspects – the UK, the US and Canada – taking on the mission, with effective contingents from Holland and Denmark too. The rest of Nato did not stray too far from the relative safety of Kabul and Bagram.

In the war zone, commanders were pressured by government to avoid risking criticism from the media by casualties. This meant a remote, faceless war. Bombing by aircraft, artillery and drones was the order of the day at the least sign of what could be enemy. But it went down badly with the civilian population, and for that reason alone was a losing strategy.

We are now in the fourth period, marked by the election of President Obama and the appointment of General Stan McChrystal. It is what one US general described as the "decisive summer". This is a well-resourced, deliberate campaign with clear aims and objectives.

But it comes at a price. This is a fight to the death with the Taliban and al-Qa'ida. It will be an incremental fight to clear and hold. The Taliban, with its fascist ways, must be driven from the towns and villages, and a permanent presence of coalition-backed Afghan National Police (ANP) and Afghan National Army (ANA) established.

That means no more remote bombing. It is all about protecting, not destroying, the civilian population. To do this we need to get in close. We need to be prepared to take casualties in order to protect civilians. And I mean protect civilians here in the UK as well as in Helmand province, because if we shrink from this fight, the subversion and chaos of Afghanistan will come to the streets of every city in Europe. It will not confine itself to Islamic fundamentalism either; it will result in a tsunami of organised crime too.

We know from experience from Northern Ireland, and now Iraq, that military solutions are ineffective in dealing with a largely a civil problem. It is better understood by what I characterise as a "spectrum of subversion".

Violence is at the centre of the spectrum, the visible light. To the right is politics. To the left, and crucial to the extremely expensive business of violence and politics, is crime. It funds and underpins the rest of the spectrum. It supports and corrupts the political end of the spectrum simultaneously by funding campaigns and corrupting officials. To succeed there is a need to defeat the insurgency across the spectrum. That means tackling the crime that is the oxygen of subversion, taking control to drive the struggle into the political part of the spectrum by encouraging dialogue, rewarding political progress and making violence increasingly counterproductive.

General McChrystal knows this. He well understands the extent to which the poppy harvest funds the violence. He is intellectually beyond the "just burn the stuff" logic that gave no thought to what the farmers would replace it with. He is acutely aware of the nature of Afghan politics. He understands the need to win over the population, and that means not killing them.

The bit of the war we see is the casualties among our soldiers as they liberate Helmand. What we do not see is the efforts to build a bureaucracy and a society, to sustain the gains that have been bought at such a price.

And this leads us to the crucial point. For once we are winning. We are winning the fight and the argument. The UK commander on the ground, Brigadier Tim Radford, has made this clear. Any successful counter-insurgency is not about body counts but about building a secure environment for normality to spread.

"Defeat the ideology and not the insurgent" has been our tactic since Malaya. By the institutions, education and bureaucracy that follow on after our troops, we are making the Taliban irrelevant in the Afghan society. This is a lasting victory.

Militarily the Taliban cannot sustain this rate of attrition. It is losing scores to our every one. Its bank is going bust and terrorist volunteers to go into this mincer are increasingly hard to find. Let's keep faith with our deployed troops. Let's support the judgement and experience of Brigadier Radford and his men. They are on the ground and we are not. If we lose, it will be because we have defeated ourselves by a lack of nerve, and if that happens the sacrifice will be in vain. Keep the faith.

Colonel Tim Collins served in Iraq and elsewhere and is now chief executive of New Century Consulting

React Now

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

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

£22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

£13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

£20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Seven per cent of young men have recently stopped using deodorant  

‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

Danny Rogers
Alison Parker and Adam Ward: best remembered before tragedy  

The only way is ethics: Graphic portraits of TV killings would upset many, not just our readers in the US

Will Gore
A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory