Leading article: Let this operation be the last

Share
Related Topics

What, we must ask again, is this war for? There is an alarming familiarity about the objectives of the offensive launched by American-led forces in Afghanistan on Friday night. Clear, hold and build has been the basic template, ever since our attention turned back to Afghanistan from the disastrous distraction of Iraq. Seven years on, it has not worked, and it is a definition of folly to repeat an action and expect a different result.

Let us be clear. This newspaper supported the use of military force against the Taliban regime when it refused to surrender Osama bin Laden in 2001 – in contrast to our view of the invasion of Iraq 17 months later. We even supported Tony Blair in his promise to the Afghan people that Britain would stand by them for the long haul. The issue now is whether standing by the people of Afghanistan requires a greater military presence in the country, or whether the "soft power" of development assistance or even straight bribery might be more effective.

We concluded, on Remembrance Sunday last year, that it was time to scale back our ambitions in Afghanistan and to begin to bring British troops home. We argued that the best way of fulfilling our obligations to the Afghan people was to promote political dialogue and economic reconstruction. Plainly security is important, but our role should be focused on training and supporting Afghan forces while reducing our soldiers' front-line role in their policing.

As for war-fighting, that has come over several years to resemble "mowing the grass", in the common Army phrase. The Independent on Sunday was the first and only British newspaper to call for a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan, and none of the arguments advanced by rival newspapers (when they have addressed the issue at all) or by the Government, or by either of the main opposition parties, has come close to a compelling rationale for the opposing case.

Indeed, everything about the selling of Operation Moshtarak adds to our doubts about the wisdom of the strategy. As Patrick Cockburn writes today, the offensive seems to be designed for ready consumption by the US media. The very language of offensive, stronghold and the seizing of territory seems inappropriate to describe a military action against guerrilla forces. It seems likely to lead up to a set-piece "victory", after which Western attention will subside and the Taliban will trickle back.

It might be objected that the surge worked in Iraq, although it is notable that this is not an argument put forward by informed supporters of Barack Obama's deployment in Afghanistan. That is because the situation in Iraq is so different, where a political deal has been struck between the representatives of the Sunni minority and the US-supported government in Baghdad.

In Afghanistan, nothing has happened in the country's religious, ethnic or economic structure to ensure that the temporary gains of military action can be turned into permanent advance. US and British forces, if there were enough of them, could try to rule the entire country outside the canton of Kabul ruled by President Karzai. They could maintain some semblance of military order. But they would, over time and even more than they are now, be perceived as an occupying foreign power. The situation would more and more resemble a quagmire, which is the one word Mr Obama's foreign strategists are dedicated to avoiding.

We respect our armed forces – indeed this newspaper has led the way in pressing the Government to honour its obligations under the military covenant – and we lament the loss of life, including that of at least one British soldier yesterday. We admire what our soldiers are doing and hope that the gains they make for local people are not erased too soon.

But the best way to respect our soldiers is to give them clear objectives that can be achieved and stay achieved. This means accepting that Afghanistan will not be adequately democratic, stable or prosperous in the next few years. It means, in effect, accepting that the Taliban and its allies will continue to control some parts of the country, but that they should be hedged in by propaganda, intelligence and special forces.

David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, said last July that "there won't be a military solution" in Afghanistan. He was right. After Operation Moshtarak, it will be time to start to act on his words.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Data Insight Manager - Marketing

£32000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based o...

Internal Communications Advisor - SW London

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Communications Advisor - SW...

Data Insight Manager

£40000 - £43000 Per Annum plus company bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Computer Futures has been est...

Day In a Page

Read Next
A doctor injects a patient with Botox at a cosmetic treatment center  

Why do women opt for cosmetic surgery when there is such beauty in age?

Howard Jacobson
James Foley was captured in November 2012 by Isis militants  

Voices in Danger: Syria is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists

Anne Mortensen
Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape