Prime Minister David Cameron, during his visit to Camp Bastion, claimed that the mission in Afghanistan is accomplished and consequently the troops will return home in 2014. What he means by referring to the mission as accomplished is that the official authorities and not the terrorists hold the area.
This view is backed up my military experts who claim that the UN mandate – protection of civilians from al-Qaeda and Taliban attacks and assisting Afghanistan with its transition, which includes the organization of elections – has mainly been achieved.
Despite Cameron’s conviction, others do not seem as convinced that the mission is accomplished. The Afghan President claims that security is only partial, and definitely not complete, as the British Prime Minister seems to claim.
The Afghan President is on the ground, so is probably more aware of the actual situation. Cameron, though, will not want to have to U-turn on yet another promise he has made, or push back the withdrawal date even further, but this is a very cynical way to look at it.
The BBC Security Correspondent notes that since the US withdrawal al-Qaeda has managed to gain more and more strength in the North east. This reality has led him to conclude that the future still remains uncertain. The Defence Correspndent for the BBC echoes this by saying, “what happens after western forces leave is a question nobody… can answer” (BBC News (2013)).
Senior military figures also seem to think the announcement is premature, as next year elections are held and these will be a target for extreme groups like the Taliban. The withdrawal of troops will be temporarily halted over the electoral period, according to Sky News, but the number of troops will have reduced significantly by then, so if there is any trouble it may be hard to contain.
Labour has warned that the British people need to continue to support the soldiers for their remaining time in Afghanistan, as there is one more military operation to complete. They are agreeing that this announcement is a bit premature, and thus could hinder the process of withdrawal, which does seem likely.
It is important to note that Cameron isn’t implying that once all the British troops have been withdrawn from Afghanistan that the British government will sever all links with and support for the country.
Following his ‘mission accomplished’ statement, he stated that the development programme will continue, and it is only the troops that will no longer be involved. This highlights that he is aware that the mission cannot be accomplished as easily as we wish it could be, because the future of the country is still uncertain.
Some will argue that he has almost been misquoted because the phrase ‘mission accomplished’ has been taken as a sound bite and isn’t the whole story. However, David Cameron did say those two little words, and if he didn’t mean them then he should have chosen a slightly more ambiguous or less definite statement to sum up the situation in Afghanistan.
To me it seems that he should have emphasized the bravery of troops, and the fact that they would still be withdrawn next year. This would have allowed him to highlight that he would not be revoking that promise, while emphasising that lots of work needs to be done in the aftermath of the withdrawal to support the country until it becomes stable. It is too early to say if the mission is accomplished.