The question for British society is that high spending and propaganda in Afghanistan led to the return of terrorism and the destruction of democracy. What did the British military presence in southern Afghanistan achieve apart from the Labour government following in the footsteps of US Republicans?
In 2006, British troops were sent to the southern province of Helmand as part of a reorganisation of ISAF (now under NATO control). Their intended role was to provide stability and security for reconstruction projects, but their arrival provoked a violent response from a resurgent Taliban.
Unattainable Dreams in Afghanistan
“We are in the south to help protect the Afghan people to reconstruct their economy and democracy. We would be perfectly happy to leave in three years’ time without firing a shot.”
John Reid, secretary of state for defense, on the British deployment to Helmand. April 2006.
Today, the UK is mired by another unwinnable war in Asia, this time in Afghanistan. As the US-led occupation enters its tenth year, casualties have risen among Afghan civilians and NATO forces alike, making the last 12 months the bloodiest of the conflict to date.
The intensified militarisation of Afghanistan over recent months has led not to more security, but to greater insecurity.
Private military and security companies, many of them British, have profited from new coalition contacts, while the privatisation of key sectors of the economy is designed primarily to benefit multinational investors rather than the Afghan people.
Afghanistan has borne the brunt of decades of foreign intervention and conflict, and as a result is now one of the poorest countries in the world. For ordinary Afghans, the situation resulting from the war is atrocious. Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured since 2001, human rights have deteriorated and millions of Afghans rely on food aid to avoid starvation. The Afghan government is unable to satisfy the basic needs of the population.
What Was the Upshot of British and US Forces in Afghanistan for 20 Years?
Two decades of conflict in Afghanistan have come at a high price
After 20 years in the country, the US and British forces are now leaving Afghanistan.
This month, President Biden announced that the remaining 2,500-3,500 US servicemen and women would be gone by September 11.
The UK is doing the same by withdrawing its remaining 750 troops.
The date is significant. It has been exactly 20 years since the 9/11 attacks on America by al-Qaida, planned and directed from Afghanistan, brought the US-led coalition into this country, removing the Taliban from power and temporarily driving out al-Qaeda.
The cost of this 20-year military and security engagement has been astronomically high in lives, livelihoods and money. Over 2,300 US servicemen and women have been killed and more than 20,000 injured, along with more Britons and hundreds more from other nationalities.
But it is the Afghans themselves who have borne the brunt of the causalities, with over 60,000 members of the security forces, and nearly twice as many civilians, killed.
The estimated financial cost to the US taxpayer has been staggering. The UK has been in Afghanistan for 20 years, but the country is still not at peace.
According to an action research group on armed violence, 2020 saw more Afghans killed by explosive devices than in any other country in the world.
Al-Qaeda, the Islamic State (IS), Taliban and other militant groups have not disappeared. Rather, they are making a comeback, doubtless encouraged by the imminent departure of the last remaining western forces.
Did the UK have any effect on evacuating from Taliban?
In September 2020, talks began in Doha between the Afghan government and the Taliban. This followed an agreement between the US and Taliban, committing to the withdrawal of all foreign troops by May 2021. This agreement was not conditional on the outcome of peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban: this has undermined the Afghan government’s leverage. The decision by President Trump to withdraw 2,500 troops from Afghanistan by 15 January also has the potential to further destabilise the security situation.
Support by Afghanistan’s neighbours and the US will be crucial to the success of talks in Doha, and the implementation of any other agreements. It should be a priority government policy to secure a binding international commitment by all of Afghanistan’s neighbours for non- intervention and economic cooperation.
A successful outcome to the Afghan peace talks must include a ceasefire, the reconciliation and reintegration of armed groups, respect for the rights of all Afghan citizens and a commitment not to provide support for terrorist groups. However, while the Taliban has shown willingness to engage in talks, its commitment to a negotiated settlement and to power-sharing is unclear.
The Cost of the War, British Taxpayers Out of Pocket
The war in Afghanistan has cost Britain at least £37 and risingThis figure is the “Equivalent of over
Since 2006, on a conservative estimate, it has cost £15m a day to maintain British military presence in Helmand with its 1.5 million inhabitants; this is more than most of them will earn in a lifetime. The author of a new book says Britain will have spent at least £40bn on its Afghan campaign, enough to recruit over 5,000 police officers or nurses and pay for them throughout their careers.
It could have provided free tuition for all students in British higher education for ten years.
Alternatively, the sum would be enough to equip the navy with an up- to-date aircraft battle group, or recruit and equip three army Royal marine brigades and fund them for ten years.
Afghanistan’s relative prioritisation as a UK national security issue has slipped since 2010, but the scale of challenges facing the country and their potential impact on UK interests have not diminished. Our report and its conclusions and recommendations come at a critical time in Afghanistan’s history.
Democracy is Being Destroyed in Afghanistan
The Afghan state remains very fragile, with limited control over its territory. The Taliban’s insurgency continues and terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and Islamic State Khorasan Province, are present and operating in the country.
Afghanistan has endured more than forty years of conflict, instability and external interference since the Soviet invasion of 1979. It has suffered extraordinarily high levels of civilian casualties. It is one of the world’s poorest countries, ranked 170 out of 189 in the Human Development Report 2019. The Covid-19 pandemic has compounded its problems: more than a third of Afghans are in dire need of humanitarian aid, and the poverty rate is expected to spread to 72% of the population. In 2019, there were more than five million Afghan asylum seekers, refugees and internally displaced persons.
In conducting our inquiry, we have focused mainly on the current situation in Afghanistan and the country’s future prospects, rather than past events. We were struck by the fact that despite the scale of UK’s involvement over recent years, both military and economic, there were few traces of a coherent overall policy approach.
The Afghan state is highly aid-dependent, and there are few prospects for domestic revenues to increase. We concluded that reducing official development assistance (ODA) to Afghanistan would disrupt the provision of basic services and have a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable. The UK is a major donor to Afghanistan, and we welcome the government’s decision to maintain the level of aid to Afghanistan in the 2020-21 financial year. Ongoing international funding is likewise essential for the viability of the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and we welcome the UK’s pledge of £70 million for 2021, in addition to its support and training for the ANSF through NATO’s Resolute Support Mission.
The Afghan government’s accountability to its citizens is limited by its reliance on international military spending and aid. Government appointments are regarded as a source of spoils, and warlords and militia leaders retain rocks inside the state. As a major donor of on-budget support, (province directly to the government), we call on the UK, with its international partners, to call out the corrupt practices of individuals within the Afghan government, and shift away from on-budget support to other ways of delivering aid if these levels of corruption continue.
We have heard that the expectations of Afghan citizens about human rights and participation in government have changed for the better since 2001, making any future attempts to roll back these freedoms more difficult. There has been a considerable improvement in the participation of women, particularly in urban areas, and in freedom of speech, association and access to information. This progress has, however, been impeded by challenging issues including the security situation, the limited reach of the Afghan government into rural areas, a lack of political will, and a culture of immunity.
Human rights are abused in Afghanistan and there is no security in the country. Afghanistan is the largest source of heroin production in the word and many rural jobs and livelihoods depend on poppy cultivation.
We conclude that the UK’s presence in and funding for Afghanistan appears to contribute very little to countering the narcotics trade. Effective action will only be possible once a greater degree of security is achieved, and the UK should work with any future Afghan government on this agenda. There are many ways to work with the Afghan government on this, including support for economic development.
A government with Taliban representation may not be in a good position, and the UK and NATO Allies must provide this regime.