We are at war

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We are at war

No armour thick enough

No armour thick enough

On the day of our greatest loss of life in Afghanistan, I was talking to a very senior British Army officer about improvised explosive devices and I asked the question: “In order to reduce the deaths of British soldiers, do you need better equipment?” His answer—and his job is to deal with just this problem—was short and to the point: “You could give me a main battle tank and in the end it would make no difference, because they would just use a larger charge.”

In the evolutionary arms race that is the Afghan counter-insurgency, according to him and both his superiors and subordinates with whom I spoke that day, the single greatest cause of deaths in Afghanistan in the medium and long term is the lack of troops on the ground.

The example he used to illustrate this is as follows. The detonators on IEDs

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  1. July 18, 2009

    John Blair

    Good read. One of the most sensible pieces I read on the matter for some time.

  2. July 19, 2009

    Paul Hutton

    I agree Iraq appears to be a better place following intervention. I even agree that this outcome alone may have justified the war. If the invasion had been premised on this, perhaps I would have supported it.

    But I’m far from convinced that the case for WMD in Iraq was compelling, or that the decision to invade had not already been made prior to the reports by Blix and El Baredi. I quite clearly remember the politically manufactured nature of the crisis and the ensuing media storm, and I quite clearly remember the US and the UK ignoring or paying lip service to legal due process.

    I am also not convinced by your arguments regarding the case for a continuing presence in Afghanistan. Although I share your sense of moral obligation to the people of that country and I see the urgency of the need to prevent the Taliban regaining power I am also aware of Rory Stewart’s views that (1) ‘ought implies can’ and (2) we cannot win over there (I hope I am not misrepresenting his arguments).

    Our moral obligation is informed by our ability to change things for the better. Unfortunately we are not omnipotent. The risk of sending more troops is that we turn Afghanistan into another Vietnam. However I’m also aware the same arguments were made regarding Iraq and I’m also aware Rory Stewart thought success in that situation was unlikely as well.

  3. July 22, 2009

    Alexander Fiske-Harrison

    I understand what Mr Hutton says, but what it ignores is the dark and vital self-interested truth:

    The purpose of a government, and the duty of an army, is to defend its citizenry. Afghanistan left to its own devices was, and would be again, a training ground for anti-UK terrorism. There is a moral imperative to improve the lot of its people while preventing this, but preventing this is the primary task. Liberal interventionists’ dreams of nation-building may be just that, dreams, and Mr Stewart may be right, but that in no way alters the fact that disallowing an Al-Qaeda-friendly power to hold sway was the justification for invasion and remains the purpose of keeping forces there.

    Hitler’s rise to power was only possible because after the successful defeat of Imperial Germany, the victors did not have the stomach to prevent the subsequent chaos from congealing into an even more militarist form of government. In short, we pulled our troops out.

    The ethically palatable corollary of this is that the lot of the Afghan people is improved because the Taliban are also backward and inhumane.

  4. July 22, 2009

    Paul Hutton

    I certainly agree that being in Afghanistan was, and is, justified by the threat the Taliban controlled state posed to the UK (and the world generally). Whether we can effectively counter that threat is of course somewhat separate.

    As you note in your article, perhaps more ground troops will succeed. IF there is a realistic chance of success then I agree with you that we have to be willing to pay the ultimate price – more British deaths. Of course the question of whether we do have a realistic chance of success remains.

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Alexander Fiske-Harrison

Alexander Fiske-Harrison is a writer and actor 

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