Thursday, 23 July 2009

On the British Presence in Afghanistan

The following post is based on my response to this article on Wired's Danger Room blog.

The reasons for growing opposition to the war in Afghanistan, and Britain's continued participation in it, as I see them, are several and in no particular order:

Firstly the domestic political situation; this is another stick with which to beat an unpopular government despite the fact that any likely replacement would continue with the same policy.

Secondly, the nature of the reporting; certain sections of the media are looking for reasons to paint the conflict in a pessimistic light for the self aggrandisement of some star names and as a result of Andrew Gilligan affair (the BBC journalist forced to resign after allegedly fabricating evidence).

Mr Gilligan has become quite influential in media circles, he now writes for the right of centre London Evening Standard, makes documentaries for Channel 4 and appears on Iranian state TV’s English language channel. He has recently been caught out again, this time sockpuppeting to promote his own views and articles. Each casualty is presented by the broadcast media as an indictment of policy of keeping a British presence and journalist actively seek out and publicise bereaved relatives calling for a British withdrawal.

Thirdly, people are unhappy with the conduct of the war; there is a general perception that we are only there because the Americans want us to be, that there is no British strategy, our troops appear to many to be just holding the ground in Helmand until the either US government decides to pull out or some nebulous victory is achieved.

Fourthly, the failures within the MOD and service leaders back home; the reported lack of transport aircraft, both rotary and fixed wing, is an embarrassment, the management of the size and quality of the Chinook fleet down the years by the RAF is a disgrace, and the MOD’s procurement arm has failed to identify and provide sufficient of the right vehicles in a timely fashion.

The RAF is constantly sniping behind the scenes, trying to take over the air arms of the other two services which does not look good, and the Royal Navy is perceived as having the wrong priorities, spending close to half its resources available for ships and weapons systems on keeping the four Trident submarines. This has brought together an unlikely coalition of those, such as CND, who have opposed nuclear weapons and those who wish to see a capable blue water navy that can operate worldwide.

Finally there is the influence of a small but vocal opposition who have always objected to the war comprised of the extreme left, a minority element within the Muslim community which, if not pro-jihadist, are certainly opposed to any western country’s involvement in the Muslim world, and the isolationist ‘little Englanders’ who think that British troops should only be used to defend direct British interests.

To counter these strands of thought there remains, for most people, only the moral arguments. British business does not appear to have much to gain as, like in Iraq, the big contracts go to US companies, consequently influential business organisations do little lobbying in favour of a continued British presence.

Speaking for myself, a British Muslim, whilst I identify with many of these frustrations, I remain in favour of a continued British element in the NATO force there and of prosecuting the war until a settlement can be found that both, protects the world by denying a safe harbour for al-Qaeda and provides a decent government and living standards for the people of Afghanistan.

No comments: