Gordon Brown is in trouble again. His justification for British troops dying in Afghanistan did not go down very well with the public.
Although there is tremendous support for our soldiers there is precious little for our political leaders who sent them there. Now is the time to reassess what we are doing there.
Our original mission was to go after Bin Laden who was being given shelter there by the Taliban. Lest anyone doubt it, the Taliban, whose aid the CIA recruited to get rid of the Russians, ran an atrocious regime. The Taliban were deposed and Bin Laden driven out of Afghanistan, but he and they took up refuge in the mountainous frontier territory between Pakistan and Afghanistan. From there they have broadcast propaganda and influenced extremist Wahibi-style Islamist attacks wherever Western influence is strong. Incursions into Pakistan have invoked a strong reply from the Pakistani government.
However, the Afghan government is unpopular and corrupt. It almost certainly earns a lot of heroin dollars and the recent 'election' was a farce. Attempts to establish the sort of government that we would approve of seem doomed to failure. We would like to see a country where free and fair elections took place, where women were treated equally with men so that young girls could get an education, where an infrastructure could be constructed by civil engineers and where poverty was eliminated. I am afraid it ain't going to happen.
The most recent propaganda setback, the bombing of the two stolen petrol tankers shows why. Around 90 people were casualties - it is not clear whether these were all killed or if some were 'just' severely injured. Reports suggest that 60 Taliban were killed and that among the civilians were many who were stealing the gas. But probably some innocent spectators were also killed. The children mentioned in early reports were probably not killed but badly burnt by the explosion.
The Afghan government protests against the killing of civilians, though who is a civilian in this war is hard to find out. Best estimates suggest that 60% of civilians are killed by the Taliban and 40% by NATO. This type of asymmetric war is won in the newspapers not the battlefield. The sort of carpet bombing that the US carried out at the start of the campaign could not be envisioned now because of civilian casualties. The number of NATO deaths is very small compared with previous conflicts. The American civil war remains the war that killed most American soldiers and the butcher's bill for World War One makes the Afghan campaign seem like a minor traffic accident. Nevertheless, each man's death diminishes me. WWI would not have lasted 4 years had it been televized. We now see the grief of every bereaved parent and none of us can stand it.
Predator bombing has been successful in killing Taliban, but inevitably kills civilians. It is said that in order to 'win hearts and minds' the killing of civilians must stop. Strange that this consideration does not deter the Taliban - or indeed the various factions in Iraq.
Our desire to construct a liberal regime in Afghanistan is doomed. When we've finished there do we intend to do the same in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Zimbabwe, the Yemen, Somalia, China, North Korea, Russia, Belarus, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Nepal, the Congo and probably most other nations in the world? There are those who would say that reform is necessary almost everywhere else including parts of the US and EU. So why are we still in Afghanistan? Principally it is to guarantee that Islamist terrorists don't attack our cities again. One option for NATO would be to talk to the Afghans from all parties and say, "You don't want us here, and as sure as night follows day we don't want to be here. If you agree not to harbor terrorists we will leave and you can run your country how you please. But the first time any terrorist act emanates from your country we will bomb you back to the stone age and we won't care how many civilians are wiped out. It is your responsibility to ensure that we are not attacked. We have offered you civilization and you have rejected it. On your heads be it."
I'm not saying that I favor this approach, but I would like to hear the arguments against it.