Leading article: Troops out. Unless...

Share
Related Topics

It is no panicky reaction to sad news from the battlefield to say that the coalition's mission in Afghanistan is in deep trouble. It has no clear end point towards which to work – certainly none that is realistically achievable – and has been allowed to drift since the Taliban regime was deposed eight years ago.

That original intervention was morally and legally justified. The United States was entitled to demand that al-Qa'ida be brought to justice, and was entitled to the support of the United Nations when the Taliban refused to surrender Osama bin Laden. After the fall of Kabul, the war aims became more ambitious – for laudable reasons, which this newspaper supported at the time. The US-led coalition hoped to rebuild the civic and physical infrastructure of the country, with a military presence to maintain order, handing over in the medium term (that is, about now) to Afghan forces under the control of a democratic government.

Unfortunately, at the critical time when our forces could have created space for development, the coalition was distracted by the disastrous adventure in Iraq. And, because British casualties were amazingly low – only eight of our soldiers were killed before 2006 – Afghanistan slipped right down the list of concerns. It was not until British forces stepped up to the responsibilities shunned by other Nato partners and took over from the US in Helmand province three years ago that hard questions began to be asked.

For a while, it was possible to suppress the doubts. Afghanistan is a poor, tribal society from which foreigners have always retreated hurt. It was possible to suppose that history might be different this time. The US and UK are generally regarded favourably by Afghans. An opinion poll carried out in May found that 84 per cent thought "foreign assistance" was important in providing education, healthcare, roads, sewers and water supplies. But foreign forces are bound to become unpopular over time, and it should be evident by now that the Taliban cannot be militarily defeated – and certainly not by foreign forces. The Taliban may be disliked but they can draw on nationalist sentiment, which can only increase.

That same poll also found that 68 per cent wanted their government to "hold talks and reconcile with the Taliban".

It was possible, too, to think that something might be done about poppy farming. British officials spoke brightly of "diversification" into other crops, and Tony Blair briefly considered the more radical option, which this newspaper supported, of legalising opium production to produce medical opiates. But, as Patrick Mercer, the Conservative MP who briefly advised Gordon Brown, writes today, the poppy harvest in Helmand has almost doubled on our watch.

Mr Mercer proposes, however, one of the weaker arguments for the continuing coalition presence, that "too many lives have now been lost ... for this campaign to be abandoned". The Prime Minister made a slightly better attempt in his letter to select committee chairmen yesterday, but Raymond Whitaker's analysis exposes the flaws in the Government's case. At the level of the squaddie, the justification now falls back mainly on "helping the Afghan people" – and British soldiers are doing good work. But eight years on, they are still doing it.

The British people and their armed forces deserve better than this. Military action abroad cannot be sustained without solid support at home. We have severe doubts about whether our goals can ever be clear and whether they can be achieved by conventional warfare.

They certainly cannot be achieved if our troops fight with both hands tied behind their backs. If our troops are to stay in Afghanistan, they must have the equipment they need. But even if they had enough heavy-armoured vehicles and helicopters, the Taliban would find ways to attack them.

And commanders should have the numbers they need – as we report today, retired generals are aghast at plans to pull out 1,500 soldiers. But even if they had the forces they want, what they need above all is a believable cause for which to fight. The threat from al-Qa'ida is too tenuous to continue to justify this operation. It may be that the terrorists would be better fought by intelligence and special forces than by trying to turn Afghanistan into a stable democracy.

The time has come for Mr Brown to persuade us of the case all over again. If he cannot do so with far greater clarity and conviction, he must bring our troops home.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Reeyot Alemu (L) and Eskinder Nega (R)  

Voices in Danger: Ethiopian journalists are fleeing from prosecution while others languish in prison

Anne Mortensen
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?