A sixth British soldier died in Afghanistan yesterday and Peter Hitchens is just one commentator who thinks that ‘our troops’ should come home now. That is not the view of the Government or the Opposition, however. The Defence Secretary told the Commons earlier today that active consideration was now being given to a larger force.
The Conservatives support the need for British troops in Afghanistan but worry that their mission is very unclear. Are they there to defeat Taliban elements? For general reconstruction? To suppress the heroin trade? Some of the objectives appear to be contradictory. Can British troops really win local peoples’ support for the battle against the Taliban if they are simultaneously dismantling the poppy trade on which they depend for their livelihoods? Shadow Defence Secretary Liam Fox believes that the Government has been consistently vague and panglossian about the mission. He has been asking questions about the nature of the mission since 26th January and has always regarded John Reid’s statement that British troops might have left Afghanistan "without a shot being fired" as hopelessly naive. Dr Fox has said that the Operation Enduring Freedom – the mission to bring
peace to Afghanistan – probably needs to be merged with the
reconstruction and peacekeeping efforts of NATO’s International
Security Assistance Force.
In addition to a lack of clarity on objectives, two other underlying
problems dog British troops: (1) inadequate resourcing (powerfully documented
by Richard North on the EU Referendum blog) and (2) an unwillingness of
other NATO countries to shoulder a fair share of the burden. The
Times’ Gerard Baker has written about this on RealClearPolitics.com:
fear has long been that many of the Nato troops operating in
Afghanistan did not seem to be up to the task of actual fighting. This
is no reflection on those countries’ servicemen, most of whom are brave
warriors and eager to take on the bad guys. It was a comment on the
political willingness of their governments to fight the good fight if
it meant they might incur significant casualties. These governments
have imposed all kinds of restrictions, called "caveats", on the way
their forces can conduct themselves in ISAF. These include restrictions
on planes flying at night, for example, or rules that require soldiers
not to fire on the enemy until they are fired on first."
to ConservativeHome Dr Fox said that various NATO forces in Afghanistan
had added more than 70 caveats to their operational commitments. He
called on more NATO nations to make an adequate contribution to the
combat effort (an issue raised by David Cameron at yesterday’s PMQs).