The Insurrection in Afghanistan Since 2000
An examination of the deployment of British troops in Afghanistan since 2000 and the military thinking behind such commitment of our infantry to action and combat.
The whole North West Frontier has been troublesome since the days of the Viceroys and the East India Company through to the Independence of India. Afghanistan was never pacified by the British pre-Partition (1948) and always remained outside the limits of our Indian Empire. There was serious fighting between warlike Afghan tribes on the one hand and the Indian Army of our Empire on the other in the 1930’s even. When we withdrew from India in 1948 Pakistan controlled the North West Frontier and Peshawar whilst the ancient Princedom of Kashmir was given to India much to Pakistan’s chagrin. There were artillery exchanges until recent times between India and Pakistan in Kashmir. I understand South Waziristan which has been the target of much U.S.A. Military attention post 2000 was also subject to campaigning by the British Army to quell the rebellious tribes in the interwar years. South Waziristan now lies in modern Pakistan. There was a full on conventional War between West Pakistan and India in the early 1970’s which resulted in no major change in frontiers save East Pakistan was severed. Pakistan has seen intense terrorist activity post 2000 and recent brutal murders. Benazir Bhutto was campaigning for the Pakistan Presidency when she was assassinated fairly recently. Osama Bin Laden sheltered in Pakistan but he was never delivered up to the Pakistan High Court for trial having been effectively “liquidated” by the U.S.A. Special Forces.
2. The Story to 2012
This sequence has seen the U.S.A. and Britain deploy near substantial land forces in Afghanistan but on account of the enormous land area of this country it was not possible to police the whole country. The Russians discovered this in the 1980’s (pre-1989) when their army of occupation was gradually defeated by an Afghan insurrection. The internal enemy would always have an escape route and haven to go to. More over as the British and Americans discovered the armed Taliban would one minute be involved in an armed engagement and the next minute be behaving peacefully clothed as innocent civilians. In effect this enemy was invisible. The U.S. and British land forces have taken significant casualties maintaining ‘a presence’. The original U.S.A. reason to enter Afghanistan was to destroy the terrorist training camps targeted against the West. This objective seems to have been achieved speedily.
3. The Military tactics and thinking behind them to defeat the Taliban.
The whole deployment of U.S. and British land forces was bound to risk significant casualties. The Taliban would not “go away” not even in 2013 and probably not 2014. They remain an invisible enemy capable of a defiant offensive reach and punch. What has changed is that the Anglo-American forces have redeployed to their bases and cut back on sorties. It was these sorties which were so costly in lives and especially serious injuries. What was being gained pre-2013 by these previous tactics? I am bound to say the soldiers on the ground and helicopter pilots have both shown especial courage in Afghanistan. However this was no Great War on the Western Front (Battle of the Somme) where we were wearing down the Germans and preventing them moving their troops to reinforce their Verdun salient offensive. Nor was the prize of defending France at stake. These tactics in Afghanistan were to patrol the zone allocated to the British Army. They were insufficiently justifiable militarily and inadequately thought through. At the end of the day we will have to make peace and withdraw. The Americans will retain their isolated bases and vulnerable supply convoys admittedly. The Taliban may have been subdued but for how long. This North West Frontier and Afghanistan will always be tumultuous in the end for however long it goes quiet. I question the wisdom of exposing our soldiers to such serious injuries and amputations not to mentioning maiming and death when all we were achieving was a limited period of making our presence felt on the ground in certain areas. Clearly the invisible enemy could and did strike at will when we exposed our troops. It is no good saying the enemy has been quelled. I would say he has gone into the shadows now to return later. The casualty toll has been inflicted upon our soldiers and some have been disfigured for life if they did not die. It is too late to put that right and the cost to British Soldiers in the 21st Century has been too big for a very short term localised aim which did not justify this casualty list. The lives and wellbeing of our soldiers are paramount and I am sure their Commanding Officers would have that very much to heart. Even our politicians in conjunction with those Commanders would endorse that sentiment.
I am afraid I do not glorify military combat. But the Great War, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and the Falklands War were all properly contested and fought to the utmost. I argue Afghanistan was a “bridge too far” however militarily feasible and reasonable it appeared at first glance. No soldier’s life or wellbeing should ever be wrongly risked or put in jeopardy. We have learned this dictum more truly now than ever before and the size of our armed forces has contracted dramatically. The soldiers will always do their duty. Their Commanders will never let you down or put our army into battle recklessly or carelessly. The politicians will always lead according to their conscience. Bravery and audacity and Generalship are not in doubt. What is missing? The simple notion that the life and wellbeing of our servicemen count for more than any portion of a foreign land. I beg to differ from Rupert Brooke if he intended a meaning different to mine.