As US troops continue to withdraw, Britain too must scale back its ambitions in the regionby Matt Cavanagh / November 28, 2011 / Leave a comment
Ten years after the fall of the Taliban, and more than five years after British forces were first deployed to Helmand—which has claimed all bar a handful of our nearly 400 fatalities—the public’s attitude to the Afghan campaign seems to be one of weary resignation. There remain, however, big decisions to be made. The new commander of international forces, US marine general John Allen, has promulgated his plan for 2012, shifting his focus from Helmand and Kandahar towards the east, and the ministry of defence has been working through the implications for Britain’s 10,000 troops, as well as charting our way to the exit in around three years’ time.
The good news is that fatalities among international forces are significantly down on last year—among British forces, by more than half. The bad news is that Afghan civilian fatalities are going in the opposite direction: UN figures for the first half of 2011 indicate a rise of 15% on last year, itself 15% higher than the year before. These grim statistics must be seen in context: roughly 3,000 civilian deaths per year is less than one tenth the level in Iraq five years ago, or in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980s, or in the civil war which followed. Nevertheless, on current trends Afghanistan will soon move from third to first in the league table of conflict-related deaths around the world. It will be hard to call this a success.
As well as the steady toll of suicide bombs and improvised explosive devices, this year has seen a series of high-profile “spectacular” attacks in Kabul, notably the siege at the Intercontinental Hotel in June, the storming of the British Council building in August, a 20-hour shoot-out near the US embassy in September, and a bomb killing seventeen international troops and contractors in October.
At the same time, the campaign of targeted assassinations has continued, including among its victims General Daud, the pre-eminent regional police commander; Ahmed Wali Karzai, the president’s half-brother and de facto boss of Kandahar; Burhanuddin Rabbani, former president and lately head of the peace council charged with reaching out to the Taliban; and a number of district governors and town mayors.
American and British officials stick doggedly to the line that the spectaculars and assassinations are irrelevant, or even encouraging. Philip Hammond, the new defence secretary, in his first major newspaper interview on Remembrance Sunday, reported…