Leading article: An increasingly American war

Share
Related Topics

The statement delivered to the Commons by the Defence Secretary, Liam Fox, was liberally sprinkled with words such as clarity, continuity and progress. None of the upbeat words, however, could disguise the essentially downbeat nature of the statement. British troops, Dr Fox said, faced "many challenges"; "progress has been slower in some areas than others, particularly on the political side". Not even the most ardent and unquestioning supporters of the mission in Afghanistan would have found much in what he said to console them.

There is only one respect in which the news he imparted was positive. British troops are to leave the Sangin area, where they have suffered such heavy losses, and hand responsibility there to the Americans. A small additional British contingent will be dispatched from Cyprus to assist with the transfer. When the reconfiguration is complete, the British will, as Dr Fox stated, be responsible for security in central Helmand, along with troops from Denmark and Estonia. Given that Sangin has accounted for a disproportionate number of British deaths, it must be hoped that the British casualty rate will fall.

If the restructuring of the British deployment bodes well in human and narrowly nationalistic terms, in military and alliance terms the message is quite different. The truth is that British troops are being transferred not because their mission has been successfully accomplished, but because it has not. Granted that it was always going to be exceptionally difficult to clear Sangin of the Taliban and hold it, it was nonetheless a mission that alliance and British commanders must have believed they could do. The transfer to central Helmand amounts to a recognition that only American numbers and firepower are equal to that task. There are uncomfortable echoes here of the withdrawal from Basra in Iraq. The bracketing of British units with those from Denmark and Estonia was, unwittingly perhaps, telling.

Both Dr Fox and the Chief of Defence Staff, Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, stressed yesterday that the move out of Sangin was to be seen as part of an overall reorganisation and rationalisation of troops in Helmand Province, and there is no reason to doubt this. But it also marks the latest stage in the Americanisation of Afghan operations as a whole – a transition which has been evolving for some time, as successive countries have withdrawn their troops and the "challenges", as Dr Fox put it, have proved harder to meet than envisaged.

Nor can the appearance be completely divorced from the substance. Even if the reorganisation of forces in Helmand is a genuine rationalisation and the transfer from Sangin is not, strictly speaking, a British retreat, these are not minor changes in troop configurations; they suggest a major reassessment of operations in that part of Afghanistan. As such, they are likely to be interpreted by the Taliban as a recognition by foreign forces that the insurgency is winning. Recent events in Washington and London – with the dismissal of the US commander, General Stanley McChrystal, and the early date given for the retirement of Sir Jock Stirrup in the UK – have only served to reinforce the impression of political disarray on Afghanistan and a military operation in trouble.

With the change of government in Britain, it is now clear that leaders on both sides of the Atlantic are urgently looking for a way out that saves face and saves soldiers' lives without smacking of outright defeat. Increasingly, they also seem to be heeding the time-honoured advice that, if failure threatens, you should redefine success. As Dr Fox said yesterday, it is not a question of victory, but of success, and success, as he presented it, was an Afghanistan that was "stable enough". Coming months will show how elastic the word "enough" is required to be.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Corporate Tax Associate - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - HIGHEST QUALITY INTERNATIONAL FIRM - A...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Law Costs - London City

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - EXCELLENT FIRM - We have an outstandin...

Austen Lloyd: In-House Solicitor / Company Secretary - London

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: IN-HOUSE - NATIONAL CHARITY - An exciting and...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Solicitor - Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: EXETER - A great new opportunity with real pot...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

‘They’ve seen the future – and got it for a song’: the unlikely history of Canary Wharf

Jack Brown
 

i Editor's Letter: Science versus religion in the three-parent baby debate

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee