Leading article: A dangerously misrepresented mission

Share

Five British soldiers have been killed in Afghanistan in the past three weeks. That is tragic but, as the Defence minister, Tom Watson, told the House of Commons yesterday, everybody had always known it was going to be dangerous.

This is not true. When he announced the deployment of British troops to the region, the peripatetic John Reid, the then Defence Secretary, actually said he hoped the 3,300 servicemen would complete their mission "without a shot being fired". They would be involved, backroom briefings said, in only pre-emptive "deep strategic manoeuvres". Clashes with insurgents would be a rarity. All British commanders were expecting was a few token rounds to be fired by the "remnants" of the Taliban.

It is all looking rather different now. British troops are averaging one enemy contact every three days. They have been subjected to well-organised, well-armed and full-on ambushes, one of which involved 700 militants and lasted for three days. British squaddies are now dubbing Helmand province the South Armagh of Afghanistan.

It may be alarmist to speak, as one MP did yesterday, of a "British Vietnam" but it is clear that the mission is turning out to be far more dangerous than the public or backbenchers were led to believe just a few weeks ago. The avowed British strategy is to clear the area of rebels in order to bring development to the region. Hearts and minds will be followed by schools and bridges. Troops and civilian engineers are to work on "quick impact" projects, providing street lighting or clean water equipment, with schools and mobile health clinics to follow. Commanders on the ground say nothing of an anti-narcotics strategy.

The Taliban, however, are telling the local people that the British are there to destroy their poppy crops and livelihood. Producing opium is the only industry in this arid region, which has had its highest-ever poppy harvest this year. Helmand province produces a quarter of the world's opium. Resistance is coming from an unholy alliance of warlords, drug traffickers and religious fundamentalists, which casts serious doubt on the claim that 80 per cent of the local people are "floating voters" who could become allies of the Western forces.

On the ground army officers are now talking about their strategy taking 10, maybe 15, years to succeed. All this gives growing cause for concern in an area which, barely a century ago, was the graveyard of thousands of British troops. If only we had concentrated on the Afghan operation three years ago, rather than diverting attention and manpower to Iraq, we would not now face the peril of being bogged down on two fronts at once.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk / Trainee Application Support Analyst - Hampshire

£25000 per annum + pension, 25 days holiday: Ashdown Group: A highly reputable...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A relative of dead Bangladeshi blogger Washiqur Rahman reacts after seeing his body at Dhaka Medical College in Dhaka on March 30,  

Atheists are being hacked to death in Bangladesh, and soon there will be none left

Rory Fenton
9.4 million people watched the first of the three-way debates at the last election. The audience for the one on Thursday is likely to be far lower.  

David Cameron needs to learn some new tricks – and fast

Steve Richards
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
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
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
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