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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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

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