38 years to go in Afghanistan?


After Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles told the BBC in June that the Brits would occupy Afghanistan for decades – ‘to help rebuild the country’, several times, presumably – I thought discussion of the length of the operation would be taboo and that all officials would be ordered on pain of death not to enter into dialogue on the question with members of the press.

But no, here it comes:

Afghan victory ‘could take 38 years’

Mark Townsend in Sangin, Afghanistan
Sunday August 5, 2007
The Observer

British troops could remain in Afghanistan for more than the 38 years it took them to pull out of Northern Ireland. That is the bleak assessment by Army commanders on the ground in Helmand province.

In an interview with The Observer at HQ in the provincial capital Lashkar Gah, Brigadier John Lorimer, commander of UK forces in Helmand, said: ‘If you look at the insurgency then it could take maybe 10 years. Counter-narcotics, it’s 30 years. If you’re looking at governance and so on, it looks a little longer. If you look at other counter-insurgency operations over the last 100 years then it has taken time.’

His scenario is the starkest assessment yet from a senior officer tasked with defeating the Taliban, tackling the heroin trade and rebuilding the war-ravaged country. Last week troops pulled out of Northern Ireland after 38 years, the longest operation in UK military history. Afghanistan, commanders fear, may take longer.

Lorimer said he could visualise UK forces staying in Helmand after the Taliban and a growing counter-insurgency was defeated. His comments came as British infantry, often fighting for hours in temperatures of up to 50C, pushed north against well-defended Taliban positions.

Scores of soldiers have succumbed to heatstroke while hundreds have battled on despite dehabilitating illness. Almost 50 out of 160 forward troops reported severe sickness and diarrhoea in the forward base at Sangin last month. A number of troops have lost limbs during firefights in the upper Gereshk valley, south of Sangin.

The 1st Battalion of the Royal Anglians, with 650 soldiers in Afghanistan, has used 480,100 rounds since the start of April. Former defence secretary John Reid envisaged operations could be conducted without firing a single bullet.

I wonder if Lorimer’s candour is anything to do with troop morale and the notion, expressed by many within the higher echelons of the armed forces, that the mission in Afghanistan could be the occupation that broke the imperial army.

The mission in Northern Ireland was not publicly supported in the UK and in the end did not achieve its objectives – it has merely put off the inevitable (if you will excuse the word).

The actions of Nato have been to turn the population towards the resistance – the most recent report was that they were planning to use smaller bombs as the ones being dropped were killing an indecent number of civilians. In future, less civilians will be killed – though it is accepted that this will go on, it is of course, regrettable. Just who are the terrorists, here?

What do the Afghan people want? Certainly not four decades of occupation with nothing to show for it except for piles of corpses and bumper opium crops and the high levels of addiction that follow.

And that is exactly what people in the nations of the UK will get out of the whole experience: thousands of dead or wounded service-personnel and dirt cheap heroin…

So what will happen next? I expect that there will be more unsubstantiated claims that Iran is arming the Afghan resistance, though since these claims have not held water in Iraq I doubt if the imperialists can convince world public opinion that it is Iran dropping bombs on Iraqi and Afghan civilians…