Afghanistan – bring home the troops?

Afghanistan is historically a place of political and military unrest. It is a place where foreign powers in the past have been categorically ejected from the land by the tribal Afghan peoples. This is largely thanks to foreign powers throughout history, including the present UN occupation, which have tried to change views to promote a centralised form of government. The rebellion of tribal elders in the area simply makes the problem worse. Secondly, the ideological reason behind the presence. In the past, occupation and rule have been the goals, but this UN ratified operation is in place to improve lifestyles and to remove oppression by Taliban rulers. British troops are able to have such a positive effect because they are not fighting a mobilised Afghan public, but rather Taliban forces.

We are now at such a stage that we are not even fighting Afghan Taliban forces any longer, but forces imported from Pakistan and other neighbouring states. The local young men are much less willing to sign up to fight against us as they see the benefits gained from the British, and the other 36 countries’ troops, in the area. Projects to boost security, rebuild infrastructure, and provide humanitarian aid are both massive and effective in the country, even in the most dangerous area; British led Helmand. Many people forget that the British Army is one of the largest aid organisations in the world.

At the start the objectives were clear: Remove Taliban forces, and training camps, and to capture Osama Bin Laden. That goal has now changed. Taliban rule has been; for the most part; overthrown so the role of our troops has changed. They are there to make lives better. They do this by administering aid, but also by protecting those wishing to help.

Long term goals are set as the eventual withdrawal of troops to leave a stabilised democratic state of Afghanistan, our troops are moving more towards a mentoring role. Afghan people are policing the streets and sending out military patrols, slowly taking over from British Forces in the area. Each day bringing us closer to our eventual goal, but also closer to the ‘150 troops lost in Afghanistan’ mark; which we perilously approach. A terrible price to pay, but it is buying us far more than a warm fuzzy feeling. It is holding the fledgling democracy in place; it is denying area and opportunities to the Taliban. Through that, it is denying financial resources to many terrorist organisations worldwide, which largely rely on Afghan opium to fund their activities.

Many people believe that even the mighty NATO would be caused to fall if Britain leaves Afghanistan. We would be saying “no” to the new President elect Barrack Obama and in that, withdrawing our large contribution to NATO. This would allow several European nations currently on the fence concerning their involvement to slope away; NATO becoming an ineffective shadow of its former, very important entity.

We cannot permit leaving Afghanistan within the next year, nor even within the next five years. It would be a catastrophic mistake, leading to a reduction in the security of the area around Afghanistan, a reduction in the security of our country and a massive political boost for extremist groups who have been calling for this withdrawal for so long.


  1. 21 Dec ’08 at 12:17 pm

    Charles Robinson

    Very well written. Very good understanding of the situation. Well done!

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  2. Here, here.

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  3. 22 Dec ’08 at 3:07 am

    Anonymous Massive!

    Where, where? Is this the Commons? Can one be “here” in a virtual environment?

    I’d love to see “Dan Taylor” (whoever this mystical figure actually is, behind the ingenious acronym) loudly proclaim: “Yeah boyeeeee! Thats what I’m talking about!”

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  4. 22 Dec ’08 at 3:42 pm

    Anthony Turtle

    Well written, I was expecting good quality when pointed to this article and I find excellent writing. As is often the case with the Armed Forces, few people realise the aid work they do.

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  5. Thanks for that Phil, an interesting read, definitely well written. You explained what we needed to do (or at least one of the common sense routes to sorting out that area of the world), I agree with leaving within the next five years would be a catastrophic mistake as those lives would have been lost for nothing and all that would have happened would have been a few delayed terrorist attacks, however if we stay in Afghanistan until terrorist forces are completely removed or at least the Afghan government is able to deal with any that are present. Even if the death toll in Afghanistan does reach 200 let alone the 150 mark that you mention in the article, it would still be “worth” it as many more people have probably been saved due to the increased dislike of terroist organisations within Afghanistan which was formerly a terrorist stronghold.

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  6. Thanks for the good comments on my first article everyone!


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  7. Whilst I agree with the sentiment being raised in this article, I would disagree with some of the statements.

    1. The British Army is not one of the largest ‘aid’ organisations in the world. It is indeed true that the Army will occasionally dabble in projects that will benefit local communities etc, but this is almost always in support of their own ultimate mission.

    British Army officers and soldiers are not trained in the art of humanitarian aid.

    So to that extent, let’s not cite aid as a reason for the British Army staying in Afghanistan. Any humanitarian organisation that were to loose 150 of its personnel would withdraw immediately – and I would hope that if this were even a primary aim of our Armed Forces for being there, they would too.

    2. I dislike the notion that British lives are lost in order to maintain the credibility of NATO. Organisations will adapt as time goes on and operations demand – the UN has seen this happen time and time again. The thought that we should keep troops in this region to keep the NATO flag flying high is nonsense.

    3. S Gray – you’re throwing some interesting numbers around there. Are you saying that you wouldn’t mind 50 more of your family members in order to contribute to the somewhat non-academic predication you’ve made? Let’s think about what we’re saying boys and girls.

    British troops should stay in Afghanistan in order to stabilise the region in order that some form of stable governance can function. It should stay purely to achieve hard results – the winning of territory from the Taliban, the defeat of Taliban personnel etc etc.

    Lives should not be lost of the off-chance of disputed theories about the effect it could have on terrorist organisations or indeed on the premise that our soldiers are aid workers.

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  8. People are dying and will continue to die. If our troops are going to help the situation, they should be there. Some will die but they will save more, I suspect. It’s a big ‘if’, however.

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  9. Jason Rose – who on earth are you?

    How can you so lightly express such a trivial yet horrendous statement concerning the lives of our troops? It seems that most of your statements on this site are little smatterings of uselessness that contribute little to the debate, so perhaps you need to grow up?

    Presuming you’re not in our Armed Forces, maybe you should join them before posting comments that appear to suggest they’re expendable.

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  10. 5 Jan ’09 at 7:50 pm

    Anonymous Massive!

    Jason Rose just got DONE!

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  11. “How can you so lightly express such a trivial yet horrendous statement concerning the lives of our troops?…maybe you should join them before posting comments that appear to suggest they’re expendable”

    976 Coalition troops have died in 7 years. 8,587 Afghanistan troops have died in the same period of time: civilians are dying on both sides. Why is the life of one of our troops more valuable than the life of a local civilian, etc?

    And in terms of Iraq, almost 700,000 civilians ( have died compared to 178 British deaths. YES the troops are expendable to the extent that they account for 0.02% of the casualties. SEVEN HUNDRED THOUSAND DEAD. The extra British troops doesn’t bother me as much as the extra thousand civilians.

    Afghanistan isn’t as bad as Iraq but the general premise still holds true – you have to remember why they’re there and the safety of the troops wasn’t the reason they left their comfy sofas and went to the Middle-East.

    Nothing said here is said lightly and I am deadly serious. When hundreds upon hundreds of thousands of civilians lie dead as a result of our action, how DARE you talk about a couple of hundred British troops as being the most important thing to discuss?

    The important thing is to make sure that the situation is getting more secure and that the extremists aren’t getting stronger; hopefully we won’t suffer more deaths but, since 497 civilians died in the last month as a result of continual fighting, we need to think of ways of fixing this permanently. Quickly withdrawing the troops won’t fix it and throwing more troops at the situation won’t either.

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  12. “Why is the life of one of our troops more valuable than the life of a local civilian, etc?” and “safety of the troops wasn’t the reason they left their comfy sofas and went to the Middle-East”?

    What typical pre-schoolesque Jason Rose tripe. I have better arguments from my brother who is doing his GCSEs.

    The point is of course not that British lives are more important than Iraqi lives – do give me some more credit than that.

    It is that as citizens of Britain, we must analyse why we are sending our national Army into an environment where their lives are at risk – men and women who have elected to serve the country in which they live, a country in which you also live.

    The simple fact that they are ‘soldiers’ and have elected to to such a job does not entitle us to prise them from their ‘comfy sofas’ on a whim.

    They need to be in these places in order to achieve hard results, which we believe will contribute to an effective change in the environment they are in. We have been seeing this in Iraq, less so Afghanistan.

    Jason – your very argument is one that I detest. I would like to see you explain to the family of Sjt Chris Reed, our latest casualty, that his life was in your own words now, ‘expendable’, because he contributed to a ratio of 0.01% of Afghan deaths.

    This is not a question of maths. This is a question of us holding our democratic elected government to account when our troops are put in harsh environments. I have already stated that I think our troops should be there, but not for some of the loose academic theories that have been presented thus far, and most certainly not for some of the rubbish that Messr Rose is writing.

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  13. Jason, most of your comments are silly. Some light-hearted. Your last, however, one of the most despicable I have ever read.

    On one hand, how can you argue that the loss of life is just as bad on one side as the other and then go to term the loss of British servicemen and women’s lives as “expendable”?

    Have you lost relatives/friends in Afghanistan or Iraq? These are people for whom, part of their role is to defend people like you from factors that wish to limit your right to spout off such moronic and nasty rhetoric. I just hope that if it ever comes down to the ‘day of reckoning’, one of them sticks two fingers up to you and tells you where to go and shove it.

    I happen to think that the death of 1 British serviceman or women is worth many, many more than those killed in the Taleban, Iraqi insurgents and Al Qaeda. These are all included in your figures.

    Really think carefully about how you respond to this, Jason, as I know you have a distinct inability to keep quiet when it’s for the best of all parties involved.

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  14. Firstly, I was simply suggesting that your phraseology was skewed – I am not saying that they’re expendable but that the life of a serviceman to save hundreds of lives is probably worth it.

    But it depends on your point of view. If you’re saying that the army’s purpose is only to keep Britain safe then the troops don’t need to be there any longer. Afghanistan isn’t going to invade us. Iraq is unlikely to also.

    But if we’re there to save lives, to stop the violence escalating, then we have to help as much as we can and make sure that we leave the countries as peaceful and safe as possible. We went to Iraq for a variety of reasons and one of those was to oust the dictator (depending on who you believe) – if that’s the role of the army then we have a duty to stick it out until the most appropriate time to withdraw the troops.

    I would be happy to explain to the family of Chris Reed died so that others might live; that by risking his life in Aghanistan he was putting himself in a situation that he knew would be difficult but was doing so to help save lives. 138 Brits have died now in Afghanistan and their sacrifice has been to make a country, once ruled by a terrorist army, safer.

    Chris Reed, the man, was engaged and had a family at home – and put himself at risk to help others. Sergeant Reed, the officer, died doing his job as a firefighter might die trying to save lives. Very noble, very worthwhile – and if the troops were pulled back to keep THEM safe, the civilians in the area would be condemned to living under the nasty conditions they used to have and if he hadn’t been in Afghanistan, perhaps the officer that was wounded by RPG shrapnel, that he helped evacuate quickly, would have died in his place.

    I’m not saying that the lives of troops are worth nothing or next-to-nothing and I’m not saying that they should, necessarily, be in Afghanistan. My point is just that the lives of the Afganistani civilians need to be taken into account as much as our troops and that I’m sure most of the troops out there would give their life to save civilians and many of them already have.

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  15. Jason,

    With your thoughts that some lives lost to save others is a worthwhile transaction in mind, I have some contact details that may interest you:

    Army Careers Information Office
    108 Micklegate
    YO1 6JX
    Tel: 01904 623653

    Paperwork is minimal. There’s a fitness test and a medical, but I’m sure you’ll be just fine.

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  16. Thanks, I appreciate that. I passed the fitness and medical when the army came and did it with everyone in my year back in year 10 so I’m sure I’d be let in.

    I think, however, that I would be able to help more people by finishing my degree and either paying a large amount over the course of my life to charity or by getting a job that helps people without lots of killing.

    So thanks but my apologies as I’ll have to sit that one out. Ask me again in 10 years.

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  17. 8 Jan ’09 at 4:45 pm

    Anonymous Massive!

    Anonymous Massive! feels left out – the kiddies are squabbling fine without me!

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  18. 22 Jan ’09 at 12:37 pm

    2LT Philip Day

    Just to mention the point of “Afghanistan isn’t going to invade us. Iraq is unlikely to also.”

    That’s not the point. Neither Army would EVER have invaded the UK, throughout their entire modern history.

    So that’s not the point.

    The point of having troops on the ground, from a military perspective, is to limit the actions and capabilities of insurgents harboured up in the remotest regions.

    Before we arrived terrorist training camps were present in Afghanistan (remembering that it is Afghanistan this article is about).

    This meant that a terrorist could receive better training to carry out whatever attack was of choice before coming to the UK better equipped to do it.

    By limiting the training opportunities in rural Afghanistan we limit the ability of terrorist groups in the UK, keeping our Civilian lives safe. This is the threat to National Security which we are defending against.

    I’d also just as a quick remark like to throw in a mild correction.

    A Sergeant isn’t an officer. I can’t remember who said it, but it’s not the case. A Sergeant is a Senior NCO. The lowest officer rank is Second Lieutenant also written as 2LT.

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  19. Phillip,

    I thought your article was excellent. Very well informed and with an excellent understanding. Jason, I agree that Afghani civilian deaths are just as important as British ones and that British soldiers get more press than they do. However that is simply a symptom of our nationality just as in Canada or the USA very little publicity is given to British fatalities. May I ask with whom you are a second lieutenant Phillip? x

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  20. 25 Jan ’09 at 3:45 pm

    Steve Buscemi

    Phillip, or should i say sir.

    Irrespective of the merits of your article, signing your posts as 2Lt Phillip Day is insulting to people that may have been to Sandhurst and picked up a commission. Being a Cadet officer does not make you an officer, and being a cadet sergeant does not make you a sergeant etc.

    Please think carefully about what impression you are giving to others, especially as if you were a 2Lt, you would have been obliged to not interact with the media in the way you which you have.


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  21. 28 Jan ’09 at 12:45 am

    field officer

    I don’t want to enter the Afghan discussion but I do want to ensure readers are aware of the position of a SNCO – NCOs are officers, Non-commissioned officers! as opposed to commissioned officers. Check out you dictionary guys!

    On the Afghan topic, there is clearly considerable complexity – military, economic and political. It is not likely to be resolved by military intervention alone but a combination of that and a programme of economic development and political reform over a fairly lengthy timescale. It is likely to cost many more British servicemen and women their lives. Is it worth it? Does affect the security of Britain? I think I would have to answer yes to both these questions. With reference to an earlier ill informed comment I don’t imagine anyone wouyld ever have considered an’ invasion’ by either iraq or Afghanistan a remote possibility, howevere the importation of fundermental terrorism is a distinct and destabilising probability. The humanitarian aspect is another and quite seperate element of western interest in these regions. An important aspect if we are to determine a lasting stability.

    There are wider issues at play here.

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  22. I signed my post 2Lt just to let people know that I have some small reason to understand a very little about what I was writing.

    I didn’t want to cause offence to anyone who’s been to RMA Sandhurst.

    I’m not trying to be something I’m not so in answer to a question.

    I am a 2Lt with two CCF (Combined Cadet Force) Contingents; one in Brighton and the other up here in York. I AM NOT A SERVING SOLDIER in the sense that I can’t be deployed.

    I do have a commission though.

    That’s for the great interest in this article. But I’d rather not get all hung up about the person who wrote it, or who have commented here.


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  23. Good article. Well written, and a refreshingly realist perspective.

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