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.

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Forget planning for no deal. The government isn't really planning for Brexit at all

The British government is simply not in a position to handle life after the EU.

No deal is better than a bad deal? That phrase has essentially vanished from Theresa May’s lips since the loss of her parliamentary majority in June, but it lives on in the minds of her boosters in the commentariat and the most committed parts of the Brexit press. In fact, they have a new meme: criticising the civil service and ministers who backed a Remain vote for “not preparing” for a no deal Brexit.

Leaving without a deal would mean, among other things, dropping out of the Open Skies agreement which allows British aeroplanes to fly to the United States and European Union. It would lead very quickly to food shortages and also mean that radioactive isotopes, used among other things for cancer treatment, wouldn’t be able to cross into the UK anymore. “Planning for no deal” actually means “making a deal”.  (Where the Brexit elite may have a point is that the consequences of no deal are sufficiently disruptive on both sides that the British government shouldn’t  worry too much about the two-year time frame set out in Article 50, as both sides have too big an incentive to always agree to extra time. I don’t think this is likely for political reasons but there is a good economic case for it.)

For the most part, you can’t really plan for no deal. There are however some things the government could prepare for. They could, for instance, start hiring additional staff for customs checks and investing in a bigger IT system to be able to handle the increased volume of work that would need to take place at the British border. It would need to begin issuing compulsory purchases to build new customs posts at ports, particularly along the 300-mile stretch of the Irish border – where Northern Ireland, outside the European Union, would immediately have a hard border with the Republic of Ireland, which would remain inside the bloc. But as Newsnight’s Christopher Cook details, the government is doing none of these things.

Now, in a way, you might say that this is a good decision on the government’s part. Frankly, these measures would only be about as useful as doing your seatbelt up before driving off the Grand Canyon. Buying up land and properties along the Irish border has the potential to cause political headaches that neither the British nor Irish governments need. However, as Cook notes, much of the government’s negotiating strategy seems to be based around convincing the EU27 that the United Kingdom might actually walk away without a deal, so not making even these inadequate plans makes a mockery of their own strategy. 

But the frothing about preparing for “no deal” ignores a far bigger problem: the government isn’t really preparing for any deal, and certainly not the one envisaged in May’s Lancaster House speech, where she set out the terms of Britain’s Brexit negotiations, or in her letter to the EU27 triggering Article 50. Just to reiterate: the government’s proposal is that the United Kingdom will leave both the single market and the customs union. Its regulations will no longer be set or enforced by the European Court of Justice or related bodies.

That means that, when Britain leaves the EU, it will need, at a minimum: to beef up the number of staff, the quality of its computer systems and the amount of physical space given over to customs checks and other assorted border work. It will need to hire its own food and standards inspectors to travel the globe checking the quality of products exported to the United Kingdom. It will need to increase the size of its own regulatory bodies.

The Foreign Office is doing some good and important work on preparing Britain’s re-entry into the World Trade Organisation as a nation with its own set of tariffs. But across the government, the level of preparation is simply not where it should be.

And all that’s assuming that May gets exactly what she wants. It’s not that the government isn’t preparing for no deal, or isn’t preparing for a bad deal. It can’t even be said to be preparing for what it believes is a great deal. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.