Letters: Strategy in Afghanistan

Our presence in Afghanistan is part of the problem
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Our strategy in Afghanistan and Pakistan is wrong. Our enemy is al-Qa'ida, not the Pushtu-nationalist/religious Taliban. To "win" against the Taliban in poor, small, weak, land-locked, irrelevant, introverted, never-colonised Afghanistan, we have to use tactics – maximum firepower to minimise casualties – that kill large numbers of Pushtu civilians. Each such death persuades more Pushtu and other Muslims in big, nuclear-armed, post-colonial, chaotic Pakistan to regard us as Christian imperialists, and their government as our lackeys; and so destabilises the country that really matters; and adds recruits to al-Qa'ida in its diaspora.

When we (legitimately) invaded Afghanistan to clear out the al-Qa'ida bases, we had a choice: to say "Your internal affairs do not concern us, but if you harbour al-Qa'ida again you will, as you now know, regret it", and leave promptly; or to make the massive, long-term, altruistic, military and economic commitment we did make, and stay the course.

Of course we did neither, diverting the resources which might eventually have "succeeded" in Afghanistan to the illegal debacle in Iraq. Alas, our politicians seem unable to grasp the big strategic issue – that our presence in Afghanistan is now part of the problem, not the solution.

Roger Martin

Wells, Somerset

It saddens me to learn that the majority of British people have turned against the war in Afghanistan, but Gordon Brown's justification of the British presence there has lacked clarity and conviction and has confused the electorate. In the end, only the Afghans can run Afghanistan, and if the Kabul-based government of Hamid Karzai does not have enough authority to control the country, the allies cannot force it.

Karzai's government is one of the most corrupt in the world and lacks support within Afghanistan. While driving the Taliban from a particular area has never been exceptionally difficult for coalition forces, harnessing support for the Afghan government has proved elusive. If the Taliban are to be removed from the country for good, the cornerstone of any solution must involve a government able to take over in the power vacuum left by military forces.

Dr Kailash Chand

Ashton under Lyne, Lancashire

Tell the truth about horrors of war

Your editorial of 27 July tells us that the lessons of the Great War shouldn't be forgotten; well, they have been forgotten; they were forgotten from the moment the great lie was etched into the side of the Cenotaph: "The Glorious Dead" – perhaps one of the earliest examples of government spin, and still on open display

Bruce Anderson tells us that a memorial service for the war dead "will be a magnificent and moving spectacle". But it shouldn't be magnificent; it should convey the sheer horror and stupidity of it all, as expressed by the survivors themselves. As long as we associate words like "honour" and "glory" with violence, no matter how right the cause, then it will never end.

Why not be honest for once? Show the photographs of the remains of bodies from the trenches; bits of humanity dangling from trees, men resting next to rotting corpses – but of course if they did that, people might not be quite so keen to "sacrifice" themselves next time.

Philip Jeays

Midhurst, West Sussex

Bruce Anderson's piece on the necessity of the First World War (27 July) is at best an insulting hash of historical revisionism, at worst a blatant work of militarist propaganda.

Anderson suggests that we ignore primary sources, like Wilfred Owen's war poetry, since they have an inconvenient tendency to omit the "heroism" of a war that led to the senseless death of millions of young men. Perhaps we should trust Mr Anderson's account, in which all the men sent off to fight in Northern France were "volunteers" who "cheerfully and gallantly" responded to their country's call. No mention of the conscription, the executions of deserters, and the brutal oppression of conscientious objectors.

The real danger posed by losing our last living link to a brutal and senseless war is that it will come to be glorified and justified after the event. We should not be celebrating the First World War as a heroic chapter of our past; the sooner we are rid of the myth of the "just war" the better.

Damien Gayle

London SE1

Only a heterosexual, class-blind white man could possibly think that being born in 1820 was anything other than a gateway to prejudice and misery. Step forward Bruce Anderson (27 July).

Manda Scott

Clungunford, Shropshire

Labour must do more on climate

The White Papers aimed at moving Britain to a low-carbon economy (report, 16 July) do not go far enough. Innovation and investment should be at the heart of any government's strategy, but they do not provide the whole answer. Labour has shown little interest in avoiding developments that will undermine the policy initiatives they have taken. These include plans to expand Heathrow, and to build new coal-fired stations before we establish whether carbon capture and storage will ever be a viable technology.

Among younger members of the party, these issues hold a special resonance. It is we who will have to live with the consequences of decisions taken by our leaders now, and we have a responsibility to use our membership of the party to the benefit of our generation as a whole. Over the coming months we will be trying to draw attention to the breadth of opinion that exists within the party on environmental issues, and to co-ordinate critical scrutiny of policy.

The leadership's default stance towards a huge and growing popular movement for real action on climate change has hitherto been one of disdain. Opportunities have been missed, and policies muddled. Now is the time for younger members to engage critically with the party's environmental policy, and to start to alter the terms of the debate.

Sam Burt, Natalie Firth, Lewis Goodall, Portia Roelofs, James Stafford

Oxford University Labour Club

The inequalities of private education

Your leading article on the Milburn report (23 July) concludes that "our schools must not be allowed to fail bright children by not pushing them as hard as the grammar or independent schools" and that "measures are needed to tackle poor discipline and low expectations in many comprehensives". How about the counterbalance that independent schools have more funding; better teacher:pupil ratios; better facilities, and the benefit of an ill-earnt charity status?

Offer this favourable combination to most comprehensive schools and you would see already improving standards rise significantly. It is too easy to engage in trite platitudes and bash those on the front line who are working without the benefits available to their independent-school colleagues.

Pete Crockett


David Bracey (letters, 22 July) is disingenuous in claiming an altruistic saving to the Exchequer through the use of private education. For many, private education is used to protect privilege and to give their offspring a better chance of gaining a position in the higher-earning echelons of society.

However he is right that the private sector would disappear if the state system offered the same educational opportunities. All this would require is a one-off investment to build triple the number of existing state schools and a tripling in the level of funding to these schools.

Until the tax system is reformed to allow this to be done, then the Charity Commission is correct to remove charitable status from schools which are being run solely as private businesses and do little or nothing to assist those who cannot afford the annual fees.

Jonathan Aird

Letchworth Garden City, Hertfordshire

Drug abuse is exaggerated

John Clinch writes (25 July) "it is plain that the drugs war is being lost and lost badly". Your "legalise drugs" correspondents always say that; and so do you: on 24 July one headline said there had been a "huge increase" among young users, up from 5.1 per cent to 6.6 per cent: ie the proportion of young people who don't use cocaine has fallen to 93.4 per cent.

Be clear: a big percentage rise in a small number takes you to another small number. More than 93 per cent of 16-24-year olds say no to cocaine, and 90 per cent of the population has never tried it.

Ian Hughes

London SE13

Death of a 'Bond' cameraman

Contrary to what you reported in the Story of the Scene (24 July) cameraman Johnny Jordan was not hanging by a harness beneath the camera helicopter when the accident that cut off his leg occurred during the filming of You Only Live Twice. He was in the helicopter, strapped into a safety harness with his feet on the landing struts. The helicopter below his rose suddenly and chopped through the strut and his leg.

Jordan's accident occurred in 1966, and he died flying over the Pacific Ocean, not the Gulf of Mexico, while shooting footage for Catch 22. The accident occurred in May 1969, nearly three years after filming You Only Live Twice. In between, he shot aerial footage for Battle of Britain, On Her Majesty's Secret Service and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. He died while filming in a B25 Mitchell bomber, not a B52.

John Cork

Los Angeles

Pubs and the abstemious driver

In considering the demise of the British pub (letters, 27 July), I suggest that attention be given to the current treatment of the abstemious driver.

I recently drove some friends to a rural pub, and ordered a 250ml bottle of non-alcoholic beer. I was astonished to discover that my drink cost £2.50, ie the equivalent of some £4.50 per pint, whereas their pints of bitter cost £2.80. I later discovered that I could purchase the same bottle of non-alcoholic beer for 60p in my local supermarket.

Surely a more realistic pricing policy for non-alcoholic drinks (are they subject to excise duty?) would encourage more people to frequent pubs in these days of "Don't Drink and Drive".

David Bartlett

Ilkley, West Yorkshire


Ryanair luggage rules

Buried in the rules and regulations for my forthcoming Ryanair flight to Norway I discovered that if my hand baggage is measured in inches I get 18 per cent less than I would if it were measured in centimetres. Is it just that they can't cope with fractions?

Peter Day

London SE27

School milk

As a lifelong milk drinker, I found your article of 28 July most interesting, except for one glaring error. School milk was available long before the 1950s. I have clear memories from my primary school in Staffordshire between 1932 and 1939, of milk supplied in third-of-a-pint bottles with cardboard caps, which in winter time were stacked in front of a roaring fire to be greatly enjoyed by all of the children at playtime. My wife has similar memories of the same period in a different town. We have no idea who paid for the milk.

Harry Walker

Goring by Sea, West Sussex

Missing beauty

Thank you for the "Butterfly Summer" supplement in The Independent of 25 July; it will be a very useful and interesting resource for butterfly spotting. But where is the Camberwell Beauty (Nymphalis antiopa)? While not native to Britain, it was first sighted in Camberwell in 1748 and has in recent years increasingly been spotted in this country as a result of global warming.

Luke Evans

Camberwell, London SE5

Election madness

It's a strange world when, as happened in Norwich North, a reduction of 2,000 in the number of votes cast for a party from one election to the next represents a 16 per cent swing to that party. As is the fact that the party's failure to persuade thousands of voters who supported it at the previous election to do so again is described as "a stunning victory?"

Geoff S Harris


Of God and goalies

I read with interest that David Shayler professes to be the "latest reincarnation of the Christ" (28 July). Also that he is a "fanatic Middlesbrough FC fan". As we have just lost our first-choice goalkeeper to Chelsea, what chance David Shayler playing in goal for the Boro? After all, Jesus saves.

Brian Crinion (Boro fan)

Whitby, North Yorkshire