357 - Afghanistan | Scoins.net | DJS

357 - Afghanistan

I fail to understand why we are, or by the time you read this, were, in Afghanistan. This page records that failure to understand — or indeed to find any explanation I can follow or agree with.

Googling the question caused me to find this below at 1, from Politico, by Johnny Mercer, now an MP but previously a soldier who served there, among other places. He describes this as a war of choice and points out that, why-ever we have been there, pulling out makes a nonsense of having been there at all.  I agree; at a fundamental level soldiers agree to serve their masters, however stupid those masters are. Soldiers tell themselves they 'have a job to do', they then make sense of that job and go do the best job they can. At the very same time, in Britain we have put effort into having soldiers that can think, so the investment of twenty years—which is several cycles of soldiers—has consequences and pulling out undoes, almost overnight, a lot of the work done in those two decades.

So if we take that war of choice attitude as gospel there are two issues to inspect: (i) why we went into Afghanistan at all and (ii) whether we are now declaring that to be a mistake. I take it as assumed that whatever the job was, it is not at all complete.

We work in Afghanistan to protect our national security by helping the Afghans take control of theirs. So says UK.gov itself, here, in the mission statement. Recent speech by the PM here at [2]. The reason we 'went into' Afghanistan was  that al-Qaeda was based there; as such they threatened the position of the democratic government of Afghanistan; article V of the NATO agreement was enacted (one ally attacked is all allies attacked, invoked by the US after 9/11). This produced a mandate from the UN to prevent the country from ever becoming again a safe haven for terrorism (link), leading to forces in the country (ISAF) being led by NATO since 2003. (UN Reports). The NATO reports declare the ISAF mission completed early 2015 and the consecutive RSM (Resolute Support) non-combat mission had the decision to withdraw made in April 2021. The UN only operates within a country with the approval of the incumbent government. Internal peace negotiations ran in Doha from September 2020. On 14 April 2021, recognising that there is no military solution to the challenges Afghanistan faces, the Allies decided to start the withdrawal of RSM forces by 1 May 2021. [3]

With the withdrawal of external forces, civil war has arisen again. In general the UN doesn't interfere in internal struggles, only with the external effects of these. So while the democratically elected government is fading (this week, gone the next)) we can agree that there is a humanitarian crisis because the Taliban behave in ways with which the west disagrees, even if it is more consistent in its behaviour than the opposing forces. [My read of the BBC coverage last night] [4].


It is tempting to declare the country a pariah and to permit escape for a brief time, followed by closed borders —closed on the outside. But too much of Pakistan wants Afghanistan to be run by the Taliban. The treatment of women, by western standards, is horrific and intolerable, but the principle of self-determination prevents action. No doubt we will have charities in abundance going to relieve the situation, but that is imposition of the opinions of outsiders and so, according to principles I have declared to myself, wrong. I think it right that we offer succour to those who leave, but I do not think it right to interfere within a nation's borders. There is a principle, enshrined in the convention of Human Rights (see the UN for a start on this) that people have the right to leave their home country (Article 13.2, Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country. To where, one might ask. This document is worth a read, especially if you follow it up with who has not ratified it and who has expressed caveats – and indeed, who flouts it in the eyes of others. I'd have covered this in an Assembly, with asides on each article of the convention. Wikipedia. Since this is quite an old document, 1948, it should be understood that this is the source of many complaints that one has been denied one's basic rights. In my opinion, considering who has signed the declaration, it is dismaying how many can have fingers pointed to say they are not complying with quite a few specific articles. The let-out seems to be 'We're working on it'. Trivia quiz material; this declaration is the most translated document, into 524 languages as of 2020.


Referring back to the situation pertaining in Afghanistan, I feel very much the same about Belarus, which is run by President Lukashenko, though few believe he was legitimately elected. Poland and Lithuania have been taking refugees in number. This creates discussion of the use of migrants as a weapon, [5].

Meanwhile, the UK is doing rather more than I had expected to house those who worked with the UK while it held a presence in Afghanistan. I see this as a good thing. Time will tell if they help anything like the 'right' number to leave.


Of course, permitted migration to the UK, notably from Hong Kong too, is a political explosive. If we were to couple permitted migration with a policy of encouragement to have fewer children and a reducing population along with policies that support such behaviour (minimum standards of English and other free education) we would have a country one would wish to live in.



DJS 20210813





[1]    Johnny Mercer served in the British Army for 12 years before being elected to the House of Commons in 2015.

“They’ve got to fight for themselves, fight for their nation.”

Joe Biden’s remarks this week were crass, and they belie a deep misunderstanding of what is happening in Afghanistan today. As the Taliban continues to take control of territories after the withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops in the region, the situation is rapidly deteriorating with each passing day. On Thursday, Herat fell, and many are surprised at the pace of the Taliban advance. Even if you ignore the fact that Biden has been wrong on almost every U.S. foreign policy and national security issue of the last 40 years (not my words, ask the ex U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates), what is happening today matters more than most of his previous mistakes. As a former officer who has served there, of course, I am emotionally tied to Afghanistan. I also completely understand the war-fatigue experienced by so many who have not fought there. It seems expensive, never ending and at times fruitless. But these wars of choice — Iraq and now Afghanistan — require, by their very nature, an enduring commitment.  The debate over going there in the first place is redundant. We are where we are. But to think we can just leave is child’s play — the sort of student politics that permeates far too much of our political life at the moment. “You have the watches, but we have the time” — or words to that effect — were said by every Taliban commander I knew of. They know our military weakness lies with our political masters searching for quick wins and clean outcomes they can claim credit for at their next election and who are hampered by a criminal disinterest in the effects of their choices on those sent into the fight.

What can we do? Clearly we cannot remain in Afghanistan forever. But if you are looking to rebuild an entire nation’s military capability to withstand ever-evolving adversaries, such as ISIS or the Taliban, you cannot do it in one or two decades. You can get the bulk of it done in that time, but the technical expertise of learning skills like fighting close combined arms battles or maturing a high-risk man-hunting special forces capability — the bedrock of any counter-insurgency campaign — takes a far greater period of time. I know this, because that’s what I did in 2006, 2008–2009 and 2010 in Afghanistan. It’s technical; it’s hard work; it requires a long-lasting commitment. But done properly, it is absolutely worth it in terms of reducing an insurgency’s momentum, building capability and, crucially, confidence in partnering forces, and critically reducing civilian casualties while retaining Afghan consent.

That is what has changed in recent weeks. Those remaining 2,500 troops in Afghanistan clearly had an effect far greater than Biden, or most other political observers, thought. Militarily it’s obvious — modern warfare allows extraordinary effects at scale from small numbers of troops. Take that away, and it’s a disaster for an Afghan security apparatus that is still strategically immature. That’s why it breaks so many hearts that we would withdraw so suddenly, without these branches of support, and watch some of those gains get wiped out in mere weeks, as the Taliban overruns Afghan security forces positions, summarily executes Afghan commandos and operates with impunity, unworried by night-time knocks from International Security Assistance Forces. The U.K. could operate unilaterally or lead a coalition to fulfil some of these roles. Sure, it would require a rebalancing of current commitments, but geo-politically, is anything more urgent today? We could physically operate combat air support to Afghan security forces on the ground, if we only had the political will to do so. Surely we don’t pay £40 billion a year in defense spending and regularly boast of being the biggest defense spender in Europe, only to then try and claim that we cannot operate without the Americans. We must act, we have a moral duty to, and I call upon the U.K. government to do so before it is too late. Global Britain? Make it mean something.  And then there is the issue of interpreters; those who assisted U.K. forces at great risk to themselves and their families are being left behind, with their applications for relocation being rejected often in error and an Afghan Relocation and Assistance Policy that is clearly not fit for purpose. Making subtle changes in response to public outcry is not a way to repay the debt we owe these Afghans; not understanding the ties of U.K. veterans to those who often kept us alive has been a calamitous miscalculation by the U.K.’s ministry of defense. 

To give Secretary of State for Defense Ben Wallace his due, he has applied himself to tackle some of the relocation cases that have gone wrong. But the fact that so many have done so, reflects very poorly on a government that continues to bleat about supporting Afghanistan at every opportunity. And then, of course, there are the families of the bereaved and veterans. For a country that has sung loud and long about its pride in its military community, the government’s abdication of duty in this space remains disgraceful. In July 2019, I managed to convince Prime Minister Boris Johnson to open the U.K.’s first Office for Veterans’ Affairs. Bewilderingly, since then he has cut its rather paltry funding by 40 percent, reneged on promises to put a cabinet minister in charge of it and sought to dodge his commitments to our veterans. In January this year, the data changed to reflect this. For the first time in our history, you are now more likely to suffer serious mental health problems if you were aged 18 to 35 and served in combat in Afghanistan, compared to your equivalent civilian cohort. Historically, it has been the other way around across every age group. This change was predicted years ago; that we have not stopped it is shameful.

Military charities — upon whom the government has leaned so heavily over the years — have seen their income decimated by the pandemic. This challenge will get greater not smaller, and it needs a prime minister who truly understands their responsibility to our veterans; one this country is yet to truly have. Predecessors could claim ignorance; Boris Johnson has no excuse. He has made conscious decisions not to honor his commitments to veterans, and we will live with the consequences of those decisions in the years ahead.  Afghanistan’s reckoning has many facets — chiefly, of course, for that beautiful country and its people. But it has impact over here too. We will undoubtedly be less safe here at home if Afghanistan collapses. And the personal sacrifices of many ordinary Britons, up and down our land, who sacrificed body and mind to rebuild that country, will be for what? 

[2]   https://www.gov.uk/government/speeches/pm-statement-to-the-house-of-commons-on-afghanistan-8-july-2021

[3]  https://www.nato.int/cps/en/natohq/topics_113694.htm

[4]  https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/12/taliban-claim-capture-kandahar-grip-on-afghanistan-grows and related articles such as https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/aug/11/joe-biden-urges-afghans-to-fight-for-their-nation-as-taliban-advance-continues

[5]  https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/belarus-dictator-weaponizes-illegal-migrants-against-eu/  Whitmore, Brian (30 June 2021). "Belarus dictator weaponizes illegal migrants against EU"Atlantic Council

[6]  https://theconversation.com/afghanistan-taliban-victory-inevitable-despite-the-trillions-the-us-poured-in-166060?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%202030919968&utm_content=The%20Weekend%20Conversation%20-%202030919968+CID_831d91cf2ba7a7bfd5e8d2364ed726bf&utm_source=campaign_monitor_uk&utm_term=start%20here   explainer found 20210815




Observation from another page written most of ten years ago to the effect that Afghanistan is a resource for valuable minerals. Afghanistan is mentioned in essays 97 (the Wakhjir Pass) and 258 (the resource curse). Site:scoins.net afghan minerals


15 minute city   Email: David@Scoins.net      © David Scoins 2021