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

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz