Editorial: More reason than ever to leave Afghanistan

More than 50 Nato soldiers have been killed by their Afghan allies so far this year

Share

Has Nato's strategy in Afghanistan changed? Has Britain's? With so many conflicting statements, clarifications and re-clarifications following last weekend's spate of so-called "green-on-blue" killings, it is tricky to say with any certainty. What is increasingly clear, however, is that security is steadily deteriorating, British soldiers are more and more at risk, and any progress is coming at a disproportionate cost.

As regards the immediate confusion, the Defence Secretary maintains that, as per his original statement, British troops' commitment to working alongside their Afghan counterparts remains unwavering, despite the death of two servicemen at the hands of their allies on Sunday. In his second Commons appearance in as many days, Philip Hammond yesterday also reassured MPs that the Nato statement that appeared to be a significant scaling back of joint operations with Afghan soldiers – in direct contradiction to his own claim – was in fact no such thing.

Reading from yet another statement, issued by the International Security Assistance Force that morning, Mr Hammond dismissed the debacle as a misunderstanding, stressing that there is no substantial change of policy, merely a few tweaks to reduce the risk to troops from the current outrage at the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, none of which affect British forces.

It was a valiant attempt to rescue the situation, but hardly a convincing one. Indeed, tempers frayed to such an extent that one Labour MP was dismissed from the chamber for accusing ministers of lying. But even without such egregious charges, the episode can only reflect poorly on Mr Hammond, leaving him appearing at best cack-handed, at worst disquietingly out of touch.

Of greater concern, though, is the substantive issue behind such garbled communications. Whether a response to recent anti-US demonstrations or not, the fact remains that a cut to joint operations only underlines the continuing fragility of the security situation in Afghanistan.

The brute statistics are bad enough: more than 50 coalition soldiers have been killed by their Afghan allies so far this year, a sharp increase on 2011, which was itself bloodier than 2010. But it is not just the numbers that are on the rise, so too is the audacity of the attacks. Take last weekend. That two British soldiers on patrol were shot dead by a policeman pretending to be injured is appalling enough. That a Taliban force attacked Camp Bastion with sufficient success to kill two US servicemen, destroy six Harrier jets and damage two more has graver implications still.

From the start, a lack of clarity has undermined the West's military involvement in Afghanistan. The hunt for Osama bin Laden morphed into the toppling of the Taliban, then into the stamping out of the subsequent insurgency and the fostering of democracy.

In an ill-disguised admission of defeat, coalition forces will now be withdrawn by the end of 2014, despite it being far from certain that the Kabul government will retain control. But with our soldiers increasingly attacked by their supposed friends, as well as their foes, it is not clear what purpose is served by remaining in Afghanistan even that long. Will another two years trying to train ever more recalcitrant local forces really make a difference to the longevity of Afghan democracy or, say, the number of girls in school?

Mr Hammond hinted last week that some troops may come home earlier than planned. Absolutely right. After the latest attacks, the case for accelerating Britain's withdrawal is more compelling than ever. Too many lives are being lost, and too little gained by it.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Keep civil partnerships: marriage shouldn't be the only option for any couple seeking legal recognition and rights

Peter Tatchell
 

Britain's youngest mum is lucky to have a father who is supporting her while society condemns

Louise Scodie
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal