1. Never invade Afghanistan
This was Britain’s fourth war in Afghanistan – and really the lesson should have been learned after the first one in 1842 when at least 16,000 British servicemen, women, children were butchered, froze to death, or were captured on the ignominious retreat from Kabul.
The point about the Afghans – and if the British imperial experience didn’t remind us of this, the more recent Soviet one should have done – is that war is their national sport and they will always win in the end. As the Taliban famously boast: “You have the watches. We have the time.”
2. Those who fail to learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat them
Sherard Cowper-Coles, from 2007 to 2009 Britain’s ambassador in Kabul, recently recalled how British troops clearing IEDs and mines from the roadsides in Helmand province would occasionally unearth the bleached bones of their Victorian predecessors from the First and Second Afghan Wars.
The British may not have known much about Helmand when they were arrived, but the Afghans have never forgotten its significance: it was the location of another of their greatest victories over the British – the Battle of Maiwand in 1880 when Ayub Khan defeated a brigade under General Burrows.
3. Afghanistan was always a Pakistan v India proxy war and we got caught in the middle
It goes back at least as far as the Soviet invasion when India, then a client state of the Soviet Union, supported the Russians while Pakistan created and launched the Taliban to oppose them. But the tensions go right back to Partition and Pakistan’s fear that one day its giant neighbour will seek to destroy it. Afghanistan has long been seen by Pakistan as its place of final retreat and has therefore always sought to guarantee a pro-Pakistani regime in Kabul. India, meanwhile, has been using the Afghan conflict to destabilise its old enemy.
After 9/11 Pakistan claimed to have changed sides and it suited the US under President George W Bush to claim it as his principal regional ally in the War on Terror. But this was never more than a convenient fiction. As a US intelligence officer quoted in the BBC’s Afghanistan: The Lion’s Last Roar pointed out: “The President had said that he looked into [Pakistan president] Musharraf’s eye’s and found an ally. He couldn’t now come out and say: ‘Well actually, they are the Taliban’s number one supporter.’”
4. Britain’s generals are at least as bad – if not worse – than the ones in the First and Second World Wars. They could even give the ones responsible for Crimea a run for their money.
Essentially the recent Afghan war was created by and for the British army – as a budget- and skin-saving exercise. It needed a purpose after its failure in the Iraq debacle – culminating in its humiliating retreat from Basra airport. Afghanistan was sold to the British government by the military as a “good war” in which the Army could play to its strengths, established from Malaya through to Northern Ireland, as a peace-keeping/counter-insurgency force.
In one tiny respect this plan, cooked up by the Army’s generals, succeeded: Afghanistan gave the Army more intense and extensive combat experience than it has had since the Korean war. But this came at a terrible cost which should have been foreseen from the start.
Arguably the general most culpable for this is General Dannatt, Chief of General Staff from 2006 to 2009. He told the BBC documentary:
Looking back we probably should have realised, maybe I should realised, that the circumstances in Iraq were such that the assumption that we would get down to just 1,000 or 1,500 soldiers by summer 2006 was flawed – it was running at many thousands.
We called it the perfect storm, because we knew that we were heading for two considerable size operations and we really only had the organisation and manpower for one.
And therefore perhaps we should have revisited the decision that we the UK would lead an enlarged mission in southern Afghanistan in 2006. Perhaps we should have done that. We didn’t do that.
But this should have been perfectly clear at the time, not with hindsight. Even back then – and certainly more so as a result of the extensive cuts since – the British army has neither the manpower nor the materiel to fight two wars simultaneously. It was utterly irresponsible of Dannatt to try to draw down Britain’s military presence in Iraq at the very time the insurgency was getting more intense.
Nor did Britain have the strength to control Helmand province, the most volatile and warlike in all Afghanistan. The notion that it did – initially with a force of perhaps 300 actual combat troops – was just a joke.
Read the rest at Breitbart London
- The lesson of Arnhem and Afghanistan: heroism is no substitute for strategy
- Obama: when all else fails, blame Dubya and the CIA
- Why are we still feeding our soldiers into the Taliban mincing machine?
- Ron Paul is right. Military adventurism is a luxury we can no longer afford