By Sammy Barker
In May reports in the British press indicated that the government is planning to increase its troop deployment in Afghanistan from 600 to over 1000. These reports suggested that Prime Minister May will make an announcement at the NATO summit in July.
This follows a decision last year by US President Trump to increase US troop presence to 15,000, nearly double the number when he first took office. He made the move after a successful lobbying campaign in Washington by General John Nicholson, US commander in Afghanistan. The ‘new’ policy involves no timetable to leave, and in the words of Trump ‘more troops, more airstrikes, more dead insurgents, less interference from Washington’.
After 17 years of continuous intervention the war is no nearer ending. A recent report from the US military watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, outlined an overall failure of the intervention. The Afghan economy stopped growing in 2012, and has since retrenched. $126 billion of US reconstruction investment has resulted in Afghanistan being the 183rd worst country in the world to ‘do business’. Less than a third of the population are connected to the power grid. $8.78 billion spent on reducing narcotics production, yet opium production increased by sixty three per cent in 2017. Only sixty five per cent of the population live in areas under government control. A recent BBC report found that the Taliban was active in seventy per cent of the country.
In these circumstances increasing foreign troop intervention is preposterous. At its height, the NATO intervention involved 150,000 foreign troops, still incapable of ending the insurgency. General Nicholson, in a recent interview with Al Jazeera, said the difference now was that Afghan security forces were much stronger. As the US has spent $78 billion on these forces, then they ought to be stronger. Yet the Inspector General’s report registered a decline in the number of serving military and police in 2017; and an increase in ‘insider’ attacks. The Afghan government has also ended the practice of reporting on casualty numbers, presumably as these have not fallen from the previous alarmingly high levels.
In reality the only way forward is through negotiations with the Taliban. Yet Trump has asked the Qatari government to shut down the Taliban’s office there. In a White House briefing in January, Trump insisted that there must be ‘no talking to the Taliban’, and that they will be defeated. Hot air has replaced policy.
Meanwhile the British government has been shown to renege on its duty of care to the 7000 locally employed civilians (LECs) who have worked with the British forces. The House of Commons Defence Select Committee reported that two schemes had been implemented to protect these civilians from reprisals. One scheme, now closed, had resulted in the settlement in Britain of 1,150 Afghans – composed of LECs and their dependents. The more recent scheme had resulted in no-one being resettled in Britain. The Committee wrote:
‘Given our Government’s own stark assessment of the perilous Afghan security situation, the idea that no interpreters or other former LECs have faced threats and intimidation warranting their relocation to the UK is totally implausible’. And further: ‘… we strongly suspect that the Afghan government is reluctant to acknowledge that the country is too dangerous to guarantee the safety of local people who helped the NATO mission to combat the Taliban’.
An incoming Labour government must break with this endless, futile and bloody intervention. There cannot be an effective and inclusive peace process without the withdrawal of NATO troops. The people of Afghanistan have had to wait too long.