Leading article: Our Afghan exit is now overdue

Share
Related Topics

On Remembrance Sunday last year, this newspaper became the first and only to call for British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Since then, Barack Obama has concluded a tortuous negotiation within his administration, and between his administration and the United States military. Towards the end of this process, a new government was formed in the United Kingdom, and at their first meeting David Cameron and President Obama agreed to set a timetable for the ending of a combat role for international forces in Afghanistan. The seal was set on this important shift in policy at the Nato summit in Lisbon yesterday.

Nato's new policy of disengagement is neither as clear nor as quick as it should be, but it is a welcome recognition that the end state in Afghanistan is never going to be perfect and that an open-ended commitment creates as many problems as it solves. The confusion continued in Lisbon, where Nato leaders managed to contradict each other while insisting that they were completely united. British officials briefed journalists that there would be no combat operations after 2014. American officials described the date as "an aspirational timeline". Nato officials said: "This isn't a calendar-based process." Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Nato Secretary General, promised that international forces would stay "as long as it takes". Perhaps he meant that Nato forces would stay in a support role for as long as it takes? No; he went on to say of the handover of combat duties to the Afghan army: "We will not transition until our Afghan partners are ready."

This has been the problem throughout the Obama recalibration: that the political imperative to show a "light at the end of the tunnel" to domestic opinion, in the US and the UK, conflicts with the military need to show resolve to see the job through. Matt Cavanagh, an adviser to Gordon Brown, makes the point in an article in next month's Prospect that "the messages had gone to the wrong audiences – the insurgency saw the light at the end of the tunnel, while to the public at home Afghanistan still felt like a war without end".



That difficulty is inherent in any process of planned withdrawal. The best answer to it is to make the pull-out quick, which is what The Independent on Sunday advocated last year. Twelve months ago, we suggested setting a date 12 months ahead. Nothing has happened in that year to persuade us that we were mistaken. On the contrary, President Obama was persuaded, palpably against his instincts, to give the military solution one more try. (Gordon Brown was persuaded of the same thing, probably against his same instincts, but as he was agonising over the deployment of 1,000 extra troops, as against 40,000 Americans, it was President Obama's decision that mattered.) This summer was supposed to be the decisive period, but the results have been inconclusive. President Obama has given his generals until next July to make the Afghan surge work, but it is hard to see why continuing with the same policy should produce a different result.

The truth is that the analogy favoured by the generals with the surge in Iraq is flawed. Not least because it was a cover for declaring victory and pulling out. To the extent that the surge was a success, it was not the extra troops alone that secured an improvement in the security situation there: the fresh troops supported a political accommodation with the Sunni insurgency. If there is a lesson of the Iraq experience, it is that a political arrangement needs to be reached with the nationalist forces that are behind most of the Afghan insurgency.

The inevitable focus on military operations at the Nato summit yesterday was therefore misplaced. As Mr Cavanagh argues, if it is evident by July that "Plan A" has not succeeded, the American (and British) senior military "must start working up, in good faith, the alternatives their political leaders ask for, and resist any temptation to encourage – even with their silence – the inevitable stream of chickenhawks and conspiracy theorists complaining that victory would have been assured if only the politicians hadn't once again stabbed our brave boys in the back".

We would only say, "Why wait until July?" Military timetables are largely irrelevant or counter-productive to the achievement of a level of tolerable stability and the containment of any future threat from al-Qa'ida. The search for a political settlement in Afghanistan is what matters, and it must be intensified urgently.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

Read Next
An investor looks at an electronic board showing stock information at a brokerage house in Shanghai  

China has exposed the fatal flaws in our liberal economic order

Ann Pettifor
Jeremy Corbyn addresses over a thousand supporters at Middlesbrough Town Hall on August 18, 2015  

Thank God we have the right-wing press to tell us what a disaster Jeremy Corbyn as PM would be

Mark Steel
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
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage