Losing the war
Posted by Fraser at 8 50 PM on Saturday, July 11
FOR seven years now British troops have been fighting in Afghanistan and, for the first time, the war looks as if it may be lost.
It is being waged on two fronts. One is in Helmand, where our troops are proving every day they are the world’s finest.
But the other is in Westminster - where the future of the mission is decided. And here, resolve is running out. Operation Panther Claw, our big push against the Taliban, is now in its fourth week. And the casualties are rising fast.
Barack Obama has sent 4,000 marines to Helmand and, together, our armies have now gone to hunt down the Taliban.
Idiotic politicians, like Nick Clegg, suggest that the death toll somehow proves Our Boys (and Our Girls) are being defeated. No one disputes the deaths are tragic. But increased casualties are inevitable when armies go on the offensive.
The question is: do Western politicians have the stomach for these casualties? The Taliban are betting that they don’t.
I was in Helmand last summer, and was told about this strange 21st century war the jihadis are waging. Their main tool is spin.
Their belief is that, after 65 years of peace, the West has become too soft for war – and, politically, can’t handle a death toll. They know they can’t defeat us on the battlefield. But they hope to outlast us, by affecting the political conditions back home.
So roadside bombs, which have claimed 87 lives in Afghanistan, are planted primarily to cause headlines in Britain. In Afghanistan, army chiefs told me they hate the way the names of the dead are read out each week in Parliament. “A steady drumbeat of casualties eats away at the stamina the country needs to keep its nerve,” the then commander told me.
He was right. He knew his greatest threat was short-termist politicians in Westminster losing patience. As the Taliban say: “You may have the watches, but we have the time.” They know the political clock is ticking.
Lack of attention characterised our Afghanistan deployment from the first. We never knew what we were taking on. I could blame Gordon Brown and his refusal to fund what he saw as Tony Blair’s war. But the malaise goes far deeper.
When British army chiefs wanted to send 2,000 more troops to Helmand, even the Tories didn’t back them. When Clegg says “fund troops properly or pull back” we all know which options he favours.
Privately, David Cameron talks about Afghanistan in terms of international development and diplomacy. He has also stopped complaining that defence spending is too low. In this silence, we can hear a worrying consensus.
Britain is slowly becoming the sort of country that has billions to give flak jackets to bankers, but not soldiers.
Each country has a choice: either shape the world, or become shaped by it. For centuries, we have been a world shaper.
Our troops have the character and professionalism to do any job required of them. But not without the political backing.
Polls show the British public running out of patience. An exhausted government can’t explain why we’re in Afghanistan. As Operation Panther’s Claw continues, it will hammer home how better equipped the Americans are.
Violence in Afghanistan is now reaching the highest levels since the Taliban were kicked out of Kabul eight years ago. The greatest threat to Panther’s Claw isn’t the jihadis. It’s Operation Win The Vote in Westminster.
This is a war of staying power. The Taliban think this country doesn’t have the attention span to see it through.
It would be tragic both for Britain and the world if they were proven right.