Ten years on from the invasion of Afghanistan... ten things you should know

It's time to reflect and deliberate on what has happened since 9/11 prompted politicians to go to war.

Today is the tenth anniversary of the invasion of Afghanistan by the United States and its allies -- including the UK -- in the aftermath of the horrific attacks of 9/11.

It is a time to reflect and deliberate. Here are ten important things about the conflict that are worth considering on this particular anniversary:

1) The British government has spent more than £18bn on the war in Afghanistan. Last year alone, the Treasury allocated £4bn for the fight against the Taliban.

2) There have been 382 UK military fatalities in Afghanistan since the start of operations in October 2001 -- 35 of them this year. The UK military death toll in Afghanistan long ago exceeded the number of military casualties in the Falklands war (255) and the invasion of Iraq (179).

3) The average age of British casualties in Afghanistan is 22; 28 of those 382 dead soldiers were teenagers.

4) According to figures collated by the United Nations, the number of civilians killed in conflict in Afghanistan rose by 15 per cent in the first six months of this year to 1,462 non-combatants. Insurgents were held responsible for 80 per cent of the killings, with pro-government forces (including western forces) held responsible for 14 per cent of all civilian deaths.

5) The invasion of Afghanistan has not made the UK safer -- the London bombings occurred four years after the commencement of military operations against the Taliban. On 7 July 2005, British troops were serving in Afghanistan when the four suicide bombers struck the capital's transport network. In fact, 7/7 bomber Shehaz Tanweer explicitly referred to British forces fighting in Afghanistan in his suicide video. As one of the UK's leading security experts, John Mackinlay of King's College, told me almost two years ago: "Afghanistan is the recruiting sergeant for what is happening in the UK."

6) The US and UK governments say that we are fighting against al-Qaeda in Afghanistan -- yet, as long ago as October 2009, Obama's (then) national security adviser, General James Jones, told CNN that "the al-Qaeda presence [in Afghanistan] is very diminished. The maximum estimate is less than 100 operating in the country. No bases. No ability to launch attacks on either us or our allies."

7) The Taliban is a brutal, reactionary and despotic movement but it isn't a terrorist group, international or otherwise; nor does it pose a direct or imminent threat to British national security. None of the 19 hijackers on 9/11 were Afghans or members of the Taliban. Of the dozen or so major terror plots that UK security agencies have successfully prevented since 11 September 2001, none have been linked to Afghanistan. Of the 100 or so Islamists imprisoned in Britain on terrorism offences, not a single one hails from Helmand.

8) Our chief ally in Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has been described by senior US officials in internal diplomatic cables as "not an adequate strategic partner" who "continues to shun responsibility for any sovereign burden", is "paranoid", "weak" and has "an inability to grasp the most rudimentary principles of state-building". Peter Galbraith, who served as a UN envoy to Afghanistan until 2009, has since publicly questioned the "mental stability" of Karzai and even suggested that the Afghan president may be using drugs. In April 2010, Karzai threatened to quit politics and join the Taliban if the west put any further pressure on him to reform his government. I have referred to him elsewhere as Afghanistan's Ngo Dinh Diem.

9) Britons oppose the war in Afghanistan by a 2:1 margin. The majority, 60 per cent, of the public opposes the war in Afghanistan, while only a minority, 31 per cent, supports it. It is the same across the pond: the overwhelming majority of Americans, 73 per cent, are in favour of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

10) For the past decade, western governments have repeatedly claimed that the war in Afghanistan was justified by the Taliban's refusal to hand over Osama Bin Laden for trial. This is a lie. As the Daily Telegraph reported on 4 October 2001, three days before the bombing began:

A secret plan to put Osama Bin Laden on trial in Pakistan has been blocked after President Musharraf said he could not guarantee his safety, it was disclosed yesterday.

Suggested by the Taliban's closest allies in Pakistan, it was a last-ditch attempt to satisfy Western demands for Bin Laden's surrender while averting a war and ensuring the fanatical regime's survival.

A high-level delegation led by Qazi Hussain Ahmad, head of Pakistan's most important Islamic party, the Jamaat-i-Islami, met Mullah Omar, the Taliban leader, in secret on Monday. Omar agreed that Bin Laden should be taken to Pakistan, where he would be held under house arrest in Peshawar.

The proposal, which had Bin Laden's approval, was that within the framework of Islamic shar'ia law evidence of his alleged involvement in the New York and Washington attacks would be placed before an international tribunal.

The court would decide whether to try him on the spot or hand him over to America.

Ten long and bloody years later, Bin Laden is dead; al-Qaeda is scattered; Pakistan is on the verge of implosion; the US government is in talks with the Taliban -- and yet still we continue to send British troops to fight and die in the killing fields of Afghanistan. It is one of the great tragedies, and scandals, of our times.



Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

Photo: Getty Images
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Autumn Statement 2015: will women bear the brunt again?

Time and time again, the Chancellor has chosen to balance the books on the backs of women. There's still hope for a better way. 

Today, the Chancellor, George Osborne, presents his Autumn Statement to parliament. Attention will be focused on how he tries to dig himself out of the tax credits hole that he got himself into with his hubristic summer budget.

He’s got options, both in terms of the sweeteners he can offer, and in how he finds the funds to pay for them. But what we will be looking for is a wholesale rethink from the chancellor that acknowledges something he’s shown total indifference to so far: the gender impact of his policy choices, which have hurt not helped women.

In every single budget and autumn statement under this Chancellor, it has been women that have lost out. From his very first so-called “emergency  budget” in 2010, when Yvette Cooper pointed out that women had been hit twice as hard as men, to his post-election budget this summer, the cumulative effects of his policy announcements are that women have borne a staggering 85 per cent of cuts to tax credits and benefits. Working mums in particular have taken much of the pain.

We don’t think this is an accident. It reflects the old-fashioned Tory world view, where dad goes out to work to provide for the family, and mum looks after the kids, while supplementing the family income with some modest part-time work of her own. The fact that most families don’t live like that is overlooked: it doesn’t fit the narrative. But it’s led to a set of policies that are exceptionally damaging for gender equality.

Take the married couple’s tax break – 80 per cent of the benefit of that goes to men. The universal credit, designed in such a way that it actively disincentivises second earners – usually the woman in the family. Cuts and freezes to benefits for children - the child tax credit two-child policy, cuts to child benefit – are cuts in benefits mostly paid to women. Cuts to working tax credit have hit lone parents particularly hard, the vast majority of whom are women.

None of these cuts has been adequately compensated by the increase in the personal tax threshold (many low paid women are below the threshold already), the extension of free childcare (coming in long after the cuts take effect) or the introduction of the so-called national living wage. Indeed, the IFS has said it’s ‘arithmetically impossible’ that they can do so. And at the same time, women’s work remains poorly remunerated, concentrated in low-pay sectors, more often part time, and increasingly unstable.

This is putting terrible pressure on women and families now, but it will also have long-term impact. We are proud that Labour lifted one million children out of poverty between 1997 and 2010. But under the Tories, child poverty has flat-lined in relative terms since 2011/12, while, shockingly, absolute child poverty has risen by 500,000, reflecting the damage that has been by the tax and benefits changes, especially to working families. Today, two thirds of children growing up poor do so in a working family. The cost to those children, the long-term scarring effect on them of growing up poor, and the long-term damage to our society, will be laid at the door of this chancellor.

Meanwhile, at the other end of the age spectrum, low-earning women who are financially stretched won’t have anything left over to save for their pension. More are falling out of auto-enrolment and face a bleak old age in poverty.

Now that the Chancellor has put his calculator away, we will discover when he has considered both about the impact and the consequences of his policies for women. But we have no great hopes he’ll do so. After all, this is the government that scrapped the equality impact assessments, saying they were simply a matter of ‘common sense’ – common sense that appears to elude the chancellor. In their place, we have a flaky ‘family test’ – but with women, mothers and children the big losers so far, there’s no sign he’s going to pass that one either.

That’s why we are putting the Chancellor on notice: we, like women across the country, will be listening very carefully to what you announce today, and will judge it by whether you are hurting not helping Britain’s families. The Prime Minister’s claims that he cares about equality are going to sound very hollow if it’s women who take the pain yet again.