Tuesday, 4 August 2009

(This article was originally published in August 2009)

Afghanistan has been invaded three times in its history.

The first was by the British in 1840 on the pretext of securing the western borders of India. They met fierce resistance.  At the bloody battle that followed in 1842 at Gandamak, the entire British Army of 16,500 (troops and civilians) were wiped out (there was one single survivor a Dr. Brydon).  Afghan casualties, mostly Ghilzia tribesmen, are unknown. This first Afghan War should have provided a clear lesson to the British authorities that whilst it may be relatively straightforward to invade a country such as Afghanistan it is wholly impracticable to occupy such a country or attempt to impose a government not welcomed by the inhabitants. Sadly that lesson has never been learned.

The second invasion is what was termed "the Russian Invasion".  Few however know the facts leading to this.  We were led by the media to believe that this was another move by Communist Russia in its aim of world domination, but in fact Russia got involved rather reluctantly. In 1979, Dr. Mohammed Naji-Bullah headed a pro-Communist Government with the strong support of the majority of the people. It got there, not by revolution, but by the will of the people.

The warlike Land Lords and the fanatical Islamists the Muja-Hedin took up arms against Dr. Naji-Bullah. The USA immediately contacted the Muja-Hedin (known as "The Moodge") and supplied them through Pakistan with masses of arms, equipment and military personnel on the ground.  From 1982 to 1985 some 12,500 foreigners were trained in bomb making, sabotage and urban guerrilla warfare in camps set up inside Afghanistan with the help of a slush fund of 500 million US dollars provided by the CIA.  The Americans even went as far as to take some of the leaders abroad for specialist training.  (unconfirmed reports claim this included a certain Osama Bin Laden)

Dr. Naji-Bullah knew he stood no chance.  Six times he appealed to the Soviet Union for help. Eventually the Soviets responded and Soviet tanks rolled across the border.  By this time it was too late.  The Muja-Hedin had control of all the mountain passes and the Soviets suffered heavy losses.  The Soviet tanks were virtually useless in the extremely mountainous territory.  In 1989 the Soviets withdrew.  A deal was brokered by the United Nations in 1992 whereby Dr. Naji-Bullah was allowed to stay in power.  However, in 1996, the Taliban, with the help of American intelligence, captured Naji-Bullah and subjected him to appalling torture.  He was then strung up by the neck for all to see, photographs appearing in British newspapers on 27 September 1996.  The Americans played a vital part in the setting up a regime of which they paid the terrible consequences on 11 September 2001.

George Bush was out for revenge (haunted by his father's failures).  Afghanistan was the decreed target, despite the fact that the main training grounds for Al Qaeda are not all in Afghanistan but high in the mountains of Pakistan.  The weak government of Pakistan are almost powerless to do anything about this, having already been forced to do deals with the Taliban.  There is growing dis-satisfaction with the government as the economic situation worsens. The Taliban's violent militarism is spreading out from the sanctuaries along the border and is beginning to penetrate to the heart of a once peaceful society. The NATO campaign in Afghanistan is fuelling the dis-satisfaction. The grim reality is that a nuclear armed extremist state may emerge in Pakistan.

The Taliban in Pakistan and the Taliban in Afghanistan are not connected in any way, being entirely different tribes. This nails the lie, often repeated by Gordon Brown that the war in Afghanistan is to keep our streets safe.  Al Qaeda have established cells in 20 different countries and all our efforts should be put into tracing and destroying this world-wide evil network.

In many ways, Afghanistan remains little different from 1842.  It still contains primitive feudal systems, many in isolation high in the mountains with little contact between them, and no contact at all possible during the six months of winter.  The Russians, on withdrawal, said that to control Afghanistan would require two million troops.  Much has been made about the recent drive by British troops in Helmand Province to drive the Taliban from one of its strongholds. This we are told has been achieved, but as we all know with alarming loss of life.  The area cleared is the size of the Isle of Wight, while thousands of square miles remain in Taliban hands. The Taliban is a formidable enemy capable of mounting well co-ordinated fire from all points of the compass.  During a siege, attacks often come three times in 24 hours. During the most dangerous periods, soldiers have been forced to sleep standing up at their battle positions. Outside the compound on patrol they are under constant threat of ambush or face booby-traps, when often the enemy simply melts away.  (see #1 below) 

It is also doubtful whether the cleared area can be held, what has happened in the past is that the Taliban soon slink back into such an area.  The Taliban of course have the advantage of knowing every inch of the territory, the native peoples are all Moslem and detest the invasion by infidels who speak another language, despite how punitive the Taliban regime may be.  The military strategy used by the Americans is now being challenged by their own Government.  The lack of manpower has resulted in the military calling for assistance from their heavy combers whenever direct conflict with the Taliban is encountered. The effective ratio of this is 1 Taliban killed for every 40 civilians.  The Americans have also bombed 6 wedding and funeral processions, not quite the way to win hearts and minds.  Following the wiping out by the Taliban of one of their outposts, the Americans are pulling their troops back from their forward positions, and instead of going out and hunting the Taliban are introducing a new strategy of protecting the civilian population, a realisation that this is a war that can never be won.  The choice is to continue a war without end or find a way to withdraw now.

Our military however are right to call for better equipment. It is pitiful to hear Gordon Brown and his Labour colleagues claim that our troops have all the equipment they need.  The fact that the Government in Westminster are so uninformed was reflected right at the beginning when British troops were first despatched to Afghanistan, the then Defence Minister John Reid claiming that the troops may not even need to fire a shot.  From my own limited military experience, I found the MOD to be so out of touch, their incompetence being legend. Early in the war the MOD placed an order with the Americans for the purchase of helicopters.  Unfortunately they forgot to say that they had to be air-worthy.  Millions of pounds have since been spent on these helicopters which have yet to reach the front. Bulk orders are made in order to save money.  Let's say, for example, an order is made for 1,000 army jeeps.  No one seems to want to know however whether they will be suitable for British roads, sands of the desert or the mountain passes of Afghanistan. In every recent theatre of war to which our troops have been sent, equipment has been inadequate.

Some of our top military personnel have been outspoken enough to say that this is a war that cannot be won, but are faced with the knowledge of the humiliation that will follow a NATO/American withdrawal, and of the encouragement it would give to seditionist elements throughout the world.  I have recently detected however some signs within the Westminster Government that they have begun to look for a way out that does not look like defeat, e.g. Ed Miliband's recent statement that the war cannot be won with weaponry alone, and that we must approach moderate elements within the Taliban!

Meantime, our soldiers are dying unnecessarily in Afghanistan. We must do everything we can to expose the folly of this war, to end the fighting and bring our troops home.


#1  Our troops in Afghanistan – recommended – "Into the Killing Zone".  Dispatches from the Front Line by Sean Rayment;  Constable £18.99 ISBN 9781845296933

#2  I had a short military career and held the rank of Captain in the Royal Artillery

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updated August 2013:

As we now wait for the removal of Western troops, it is an interesting time to examine the current position, and to predict the future.  First of all the use of drones by the Americans has seen deaths of many civilians rise considerably, thus forming a recruiting platform for the Taliban.   Back in America the unpopularity of any war is linked to the number of casualties occurring among the troops, and the drones may have resulted in the reduction of troop deaths, but at what price in securing a lasting peace?   Much has been said about the training by the allies of Afghan troops to fight the Taliban.  We know however that the Taliban have infiltrated the police, military and other institutions. So as the troops leave, we see the corrupt Karzai Government on one side and the despotic Taliban on the other, who remain far from defeated.  The future is not difficult to predict.  The question remains what have we achieved, with the loss of so many lives?   

My article caption – "Afghanistan – War Without End" is as appropriate now as it was then.

See also:  More blogs by John Jappy