Afghanistan: The Taliban is recapturing Helmand before our eyes

As talk grows of putting 'boots on the ground' in Syria, we should remember where this got us in Afghanistan – nowhere

Sunday 20 December 2015 20:53
Afghan security forces patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan
Afghan security forces patrol in Helmand province, Afghanistan

It is a measure of how desperate matters have become for government forces in Afghanistan that when the deputy governor of Helmand wanted to tell his own President that the Taliban was rapidly overrunning his province, he went on Facebook to do so because – in his words – there was no other way to contact him. “I don’t know what else to do,” he wrote.

Whether the outside world will react to this heartfelt appeal looks doubtful. With all eyes on Syria and Iraq, and on the dangers of Islamist attacks in Europe and America, Afghanistan is a forgotten war. The Taliban’s campaign to recapture the country has become a sideshow in Western eyes, not least because Taliban extremists no longer look that extreme – not when measured against Isis.

For the relatives of the 453 British soldiers who lost their lives in Afghanistan from 2001 to 2014, mostly in Helmand, it must be painful. Many must be wondering whether the sacrifice of their loved ones was made in vain. Some will also remember that when the last British soldiers left in October 2014, the Defence Secretary, Michael Fallon, said they were leaving with “heads held high”.

“This orderly transition underlines the progress that we have made alongside our allies,” he declared. Afghanistan was “no longer a safe haven for terrorists”.

Those words seem risible now, when the most reliable estimates indicate that the Taliban controls or heavily influences at least half of the country. As talk grows of putting “boots on the ground” in Syria, we should remember where this got us in Afghanistan – nowhere.

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