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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Piper Ryan Randall leads a pro-Scottish independence rally in the suburbs of Edinburgh  

i Editor's Letter: Britain survives, but change is afoot

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Some believe that David Cameron is to blame for allowing Alex Salmond a referendum  

Scottish referendum: So how about the English now being given a chance to split from England?

Mark Steel
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam