The Saturday Debate: Time for British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan

by Stephen Tall on July 3, 2010

Here’s your starter for ten as we continue our Saturday slot posing a view for debate:

Lib Dem MEP Chris Davies has recently written to Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg renewing his call for British troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan:

It is very difficult to justify our continued engagement when the reasons for it so often appear contradictory and open to challenge. I suspect one reason why 77% of people in this country tell pollsters that they want our troops out of Afghanistan is because they either do not know what are the objectives for their presence or do not believe that these can be achieved. I share these doubts.

The American-led assault against the Taliban government was launched in the wake of the 2001 aircraft hijackings and attack upon the World Trade Centre. It had United Nations support because the Taliban provided shelter for the al-Qa’ida leaders who planned that outrage. But the al-Qa’ida presence has long since been removed, at least so far as this will ever be possible in such a land, and the Americans have the technology and weaponry to prevent it regrouping in an organised fashion

It has been claimed that our presence in Afghanistan is intended to keep safe the streets of Britain. I do not believe this case can be sustained. Our soldiers are easily portrayed as foreign invaders who should be resisted by Afghan patriots, and our presence in the country may not only contribute to instability there but increase the risk of maverick attacks on people here.

Nearly a decade on the American-led forces are still very far from establishing an Afghan national army or police force that can claim to be representative of all people in the country. It is widely recognised, not least by President Karzai, that an accommodation must be found with the Taliban. Our money, or ‘soft diplomacy’, may help facilitate this, and an alternative political strategy should be developed with this in mind. In the meantime British soldiers continue to be killed by people who will one day be part of the Afghan government.

Undoubtedly the withdrawal of our troops would present risks. It could allow the Taliban to increase their influence and to take control of a greater part of the country. It might also allow the Taliban to strengthen their presence in Pakistan. But then again it might not, or not to any significant degree.

The majority of Taliban fighters are said to be local farmers who have no great national ambitions. I am not sure that our allies, the former warlords who are now politicians and regional governors, have any greater moral right to govern parts of the country than the Taliban but they have their own private militias and will not easily surrender territory.

I have heard it argued that the principal reason that British troops remain in Afghanistan is because we do not want to weaken our relationship with the Americans by following the example of other European states and announcing a date for withdrawal. I do not regard such a reason as sufficient justification for the death of our soldiers.

There will be no happy ending to our involvement in Afghanistan. At some point we will start to withdraw our forces, and in years to come we shall question why we did not take this step this at an earlier date. Let it commence now, before still more lives have been lost for no good purpose.

Agree? Disagree? Over to you and the comments thread …