To abandon Afghanistan now would be a betayal of the fallen. The campaign to defeat the Taliban must endure, says Boris Johnson – whatever it takes.
I’ll tell you why we are in Afghanistan. I could show you the crater in downtown Manhattan, the place they call Ground Zero. They still haven’t built over it, eight years on, and it remains like a great open wound on the American psyche, a reminder of the hideous terrorist attack that was launched from the Afghan lair of Osama bin Laden.
We have 9,000 troops in Afghanistan because the Americans have 70,000 troops there, and because America is our closest ally. We enlisted with America in the cause of driving out the Taliban extremists who were harbouring bin Laden. And whatever the Independent on Sunday may demand, we will remain in Afghanistan, shoulder to shoulder with America, for as long as the mission endures. For us to pull out now – immediately, unilaterally – would not only be to let down Britain’s most vital geo-strategic alliance, it would be this country’s biggest military humiliation since Suez.
Boris Johnson adds that “We are there with the Americans not just because it is our function to be their loyal lieutenant, the fidus Achates of Washington. We are there with the Americans in Afghanistan because the Americans are right to be there. We are there because our forces are doing their level best to improve the lives of the people of that poverty-stricken country. We are there to try our hardest to teach them the value of democracy and of educating women. We are there to do what we can to wean them off the opium crop.
Of course, no one could pretend that things are going well. Yes, it is difficult to promote women’s liberation and democracy and drains and habeas corpus when you have a constant risk of attack by a resurgent Taliban. How can our troops hope to deal with the opium crop when the very brother-in-law of President Karzai turns out to be one of the biggest drugs gangsters of the lot? Of course, it is depressing that British soldiers fought and died to ensure that Afghans in Helmand could vote – and yet one in three of the ballots turns out to have been fraudulent. The position is grim.
But what is the alternative? The answer is that the alternative is even grimmer. I have an Afghan sister-in-law, and she remembers the chaos and the carnage when the Russians finally pulled out in 1989. She doesn’t want the Taliban to take over the entire country, as they did before. She doesn’t want Afghanistan to become a giant version of the Taliban mini-state of Waziristan. Are we really going to follow the advice of the Independent on Sunday, haul up the white flag, bring our troops home, and consign Afghanistan to a bunch of thugs and religious maniacs?
Never mind the damage that would do to American interests, or the interests of the people of Afghanistan. Surrender is not in British interests, either. It is true that most British terror suspects are linked to Pakistan rather than Afghanistan. But if we surrender Afghanistan to the jihadis and the extremists, then what hope for Pakistan? It is already hard enough to keep track of those young men who leave Britain for sinister camps in the tribal regions of Pakistan. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, the whole region will become a playground for the would-be terrorists.
The problem with our mission to Afghanistan is not our Armed Forces. The trouble is a lack of political will, seeping from one side of the Atlantic to the other. In Washington, President Obama has now spent 10 weeks hearing various recommendations on General McChrystal’s request for more troops. The President has many fine qualities but his gestation of this question is starting to make Gordon Brown look like a man of mamba-like decisiveness.
Meanwhile, the people of Britain have apparently taken fright at the number of fatalities, and a procession of superannuated generals has made it way to the airwaves or to the red benches of the House of Lords to denounce the Government and to accuse the politicians of “betraying our boys.”
The generals are right to say we can’t be there forever, and we should certainly pull out if the mere presence of western troops is starting to cause more problems than it solves. If the International Security Assistance Force is nothing more than a recruiting-sergeant for the Taliban, then the game is obviously up. But we are not there yet. Whatever their misgivings, the retired generals seem to agree that we cannot pull out immediately. That being so, we need to work like blazes over the next three or four years to make the operation a success – or as close to a success as possible. That means Obama has to make his mind up pronto, preferably in favour of the 40,000 troops requested by McChrystal.
Naturally, we need to make sure that British troops have all the equipment they need, and it is obvious that they should long ago have been equipped with more helicopters. But we also need less sniping from the generals and, above all, we need the Prime Minister to give this country a clearer sense of what this operation is about – and why we should not back down.
I never thought I’d say this, but the abject failure of Gordon Brown to offer a clear and inspiring explanation of what we are doing in Afghanistan is not only a failure of leadership. It is just about the only time we have missed Tony Blair. It may be right to say the war is not “winnable” in the short term. But that is true of many noble struggles. It doesn’t mean the war is not worth fighting. To pull out now, and abandon Afghanistan to its fate, would be the biggest betrayal of those who have given their lives so far.”
For the full version see The Daily Telegraph