Afghanistan: What the leaders think

184 service personnel have died in Afghanistan since 2001. The tragic deaths of eight men who died last week in a single 24-hour period has brought the conflict home. Newspapers are abuzz with consternation and criticism. Newspapers have been awash with editorials setting out their respective views and ideas of what the UK and wider coalition should do. Below are the highlights.

Background:

The UK Af-Pak Strategy is here.

The US Af-Pak Strategy is here . (pdf)

ISAF ‘Missions and Mandate’ is here .

The Sunday Times believes the government needs to do two things on Afghanistan:

The first is to convey a clearer explanation of Britain’s war aims. Generalities such as those yesterday of David Miliband, the foreign secretary, that the troops are engaged in a battle for “the future of Britain”, are not good enough. Wars without a clear strategy are lost. And, second, even amid the fiscal mess, it is vital for the army to have the numbers and the equipment it needs. Otherwise the 184 will have given their lives in vain.

Meanwhile the FT argues that in the next two years, Britain will face questions over its future defence posture.

It must decide whether it can maintain effective counter-insurgency operations rather than investing in new naval and air assets. In the face of a public spending crisis, Britain must also decide whether it can afford its global role. But right now, Helmand is the issue. To lose 15 soldiers in two weeks is terrible. To discover at some future date that those soldiers died in a fight for territory that was subsequently surrendered back to the Taliban would be unthinkable.

For the Telegraph the issue is more simple:

We accept the national interest case for this operation; but popular support will be lost unless the Government can make a better fist than it has so far of explaining why so many young men are being killed thousands of miles from home. These are matters for which Mr Brown is directly and personally accountable; it is a responsibility he cannot shirk. It is not the case, either, that questioning the prosecution of the war is a betrayal of the troops who are fighting it. As the good people of Wootton Bassett show with tragic frequency, this country holds its combatants in great esteem. But does the Government? As things stand, the Prime Minister himself creates the impression that he fails to grasp what is happening in Helmand or how it could be put right. We will not easily forgive him or his administration for letting our Armed Forces down.

The Observer meanwhile suggests that the Government’s approach is a gamble:

We are fighting out of crude national self-interest, following a cold utilitarian logic: the war makes an al-Qaida atrocity less likely; the sacrifice in British lives abroad is worth the added security at home; 184 dead soldiers weighed up against the losses in an imagined 9/11-style attack. But much as the government might like to dress this up as strategy, it is simply a gamble. Unless there is a dramatic change in circumstances, the public will decide the stakes are too high. Lives saved by bringing soldiers home will seem a surer benefit than the unproven hypothesis of preventing terrorism with a war thousands of miles away. The government must prepare for that moment. The old justifications for intervention in Afghanistan are spent. If there are no others, the troops must come home.

This morning the Foreign Secretary argued that the Afghan strategy ‘is to make the UK safer ‘, Liam Fox said ‘any failures in Afghan policy must be rectified’ and Paddy Ashdown pointed out that ‘helicopters are not the heart of the problem in Afghanistan’.

Update: It’s worth listening to the interview with  counterinsurgency guru David Kilcullen on Radio 4 this morning. Best quote from the fantastic Evan Davis ‘a lot of complexity came out of the interview with David Kilcullen’. Listen here

Update 2: Hold on… Lord Owen has the answer:

If we are lucky, Afghanistan might develop a reasonably cohesive army and a tolerant, democratic government. That is surely a goal worth fighting for. But it will only come with more money and a shake-up of our political and military leadership.

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About Charlie Edwards

Charlie Edwards is Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute. Prior to RUSI he was a Research Leader at the RAND Corporation focusing on Defence and Security where he conducted research and analysis on a broad range of subject areas including: the evaluation and implementation of counter-violent extremism programmes in Europe and Africa, UK cyber strategy, European emergency management, and the role of the internet in the process of radicalisation. He has undertaken fieldwork in Iraq, Somalia, and the wider Horn of Africa region.