MISSION DONE – UK ARMED FORCES READY TO DEPART FROM AFGHANISTAN
By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.
27 Oct 14. It is in my view a true and fair observation for the Secretary of State for Defence, Michael Fallon to make when he said yesterday that “it is with pride that we announce the end of UK combat operations in Helmand, having given Afghanistan the best possible chance of a stable future”. Afghanistan has been a tough and dangerous conflict for NATO’s ISAF (International Security Assistance Forces) forces to fight but it is campaign that I for one believe it was right that we should be fully involved.
As the second largest force within ISAF fighting alongside US and other NATO partner forces Britain can undoubtedly leave Afghanistan with its head held high. While we may not have achieved full conflict resolution we have helped lay the foundations and played our part in building and training Afghan security forces that will take over from ISAF. We have also helped to put in place and protect a system of government that is properly established and accountable to its people through the ballot box.
While the transition from a state torn apart by decades of conflict, Al-Qaeda infiltration and until 2001 when they had been ousted, too many years of ruthless Taliban control we may take a degree of satisfaction that Afghanistan now has a system of government that with more hard work and determination can lead Afghanistan forward into a rather different and hopefully better world than the one that its people have been forced to endure in recent years.
Afghanistan remains a poor country of course but it is one that does now have a system of government based on democratic principles. That is not to suggest that democracy is always the correct system but it one that allows everyone to speak freely and to use their voice and their vote. Neither is anyone under the illusion or misapprehension that when NATO ISAF forces finally depart that those who would still seek to keep Afghanistan in the dark ages may not once again challenge the new order. But we can now say this, if and when they do challenge they will find not only huge resistance from well-trained and far better equipped Afghan security forces but also a people that are far less willing to be walked over or brow beaten into allowing the clock to be turned back.
The challenges ahead for the senior leadership of the Afghan government will be immense. For a start they will live in shadow of yet another large conflict that threatens the peace and stability of the Middle East. The threat that ISIL forms cannot be ignored by any of us not least those more directly involved or those like Afghanistan and Pakistan that sit on its periphery. In the months ahead the relationship between ISIL and the Taliban will be keenly observed.
We move forward with our eyes open too fully recognising that there will be challenges on the Afghan administration such as loyalty and other internal pressures including sectarian.
The Afghan administration will not be completely alone though and while Britain and the US have now in effect all but handed control over to Afghan security forces the US intends to leave 9,800 troops in the country through next year and probably through most of 2016 until close to the next presidential election by which time they too will have departed. Britain meanwhile will continue to provide assistance not only financially through NATO but also by leaving a few hundred special force soldiers in country to assist in training. These will most probably be located in the so-called diplomatic green zone in and around Kabul and that they will be supported by retention of rotary capability from Joint Helicopter Command.
British forces can certainly be proud of what they have achieved in Afghanistan and while it is true that 453 British servicemen lost their lives in the conflict and that thousands more were injured over the full th