Leading article: Why we must leave Afghanistan

Share
Related Topics

One by one over the past eight years, the arguments for the continued presence of Nato troops in Afghanistan have fallen away. The last one, which held us back until now from calling for withdrawal, was the need to police the Afghan election in August. That election process is now over: last week the president's main opponent pulled out, and Hamid Karzai was formally re-elected. That is not a happy outcome. For British soldiers to be deployed in support of a president whose position is bolstered by ballot-rigging tips the balance of our view from reluctant backing for the mission in Afghanistan to regretful opposition.

The Independent on Sunday is proud of Britain's armed forces, and has led the way in demanding that the Government honour – on behalf of the British people – its side of the military covenant, to provide troops with the equipment that they need and the support that they and their families deserve. On this Remembrance Sunday, we reassert our belief that our forces are entitled, above all, to clear and believable war aims.

This newspaper was never keen on the Afghan intervention, although we did distinguish it sharply from the Iraq war, which we opposed strongly throughout. When Tony Blair said, before the bombs began to fall, "We must bring Bin Laden and other al-Qa'ida leaders to justice" and "ensure that Afghanistan ceases to harbour and sustain international terrorism", we pointed out that the terrorist threat to Britain from al-Qa'ida training camps was tenuous.

Once the conflict began, we asked: "What is this war for?" Although we never received a satisfactory answer, we welcomed the fall of the Taliban and reluctantly accepted Mr Blair's argument, made with his trademark persuasiveness, that the best protection against their return was to help rebuild the country. Thus the mission crept from bringing mass murderers to book to fostering democracy, female emancipation and winning the battle against drugs. Those are worthy aims, but eight years on we have made limited progress. In the meantime, British forces, which had borne few casualties until then, were deployed in 2006 to Helmand province.

It is not so much the casualty rate, however, but the lack of progress that should demand a re-examination of our policy. Gordon Brown's speech last week did not deliver the review needed. It contained the glaring contradiction between the claim that our troops are needed in Afghanistan "to keep the British people safe" and the warning that, if Mr Karzai's government fails to clean up its act, it will have "forfeited its right to international support". If you believe that our mission in Afghanistan makes British streets safer, then its continuation should not depend on Mr Karzai. If, on the other hand, you believe, as Kim Howells, the former Foreign Office minister, said last week, that any remote or long-term effect on British streets is outweighed by the propaganda gain to jihadist ideology of our "occupying" a Muslim country, then Mr Karzai's shortcomings give us another reason to get out.

There are, of course, still good reasons to stay, although they are secondary. The Afghan people do not want foreign troops to leave until security is better. But the longer we are there the more our forces provide target practice for jihadists and grievances for nationalists to turn to jihadism, as Patrick Cockburn argues so forcefully today.

A second reason for staying is that our withdrawal could undermine Barack Obama, whose leadership is needed in the world. But we have left Iraq while the US stayed. In any case, as we report today, the US is keen to move British forces away from being a political target.

Ultimately, we should make a British decision in the British interest. And that decision should be to wind down combat operations over a period – say, by Remembrance Sunday next year – and to restrict the mission to training the Afghan army and police force. Special forces operations should continue, especially on the Pakistan border, to disrupt any attempt by al-Qa'ida to return. But beyond that it is time to act on the observation of David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, that there can be no military solution in Afghanistan.

It is time, on this solemn day on which we remember the sacrifice of those who gave their lives for our freedom and security, for a change in policy. It is time to say that this war is ill conceived, unwinnable and counterproductive. It is time to start planning a phased withdrawal of British troops.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Recruitment Genius: Medico-Legal Assistant

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a unique opportunity fo...

Ashdown Group: (PHP / Python) - Global Media firm

£50000 per annum + 26 days holiday,pension: Ashdown Group: A highly successful...

The Jenrick Group: Quality Inspector

£27000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: A Quality Technician...

Day In a Page

Read Next
David Cameron faces the press as he arrives in Brussels for the EU leaders summit on Thursday reuters  

On the Tusk of a dilemma: Cameron's latest EU renegotiation foe

Andrew Grice
John Profumo and his wife Valerie Robson in 1959  

Stephen Ward’s trial was disgraceful. There can be no justification for it

Geoffrey Robertson QC
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

Paul Scholes column

It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas