Has the Afghanistan mission really been a success?

The Prime Minister David Cameron, during a visit to UK troops in Afghanistan, has said that the British servicemen and women currently based there can “come home with their heads held high” when they are finally withdrawn from the turbulent country next year. This is very true as the admiration and respect for British soldiers carrying out their duties in Afghanistan is of a great magnitude across the UK – the courage of individual soldiers cannot be disputed.

But once our soldiers as well as the majority of those from other NATO and ISAF involved countries also leave, will Afghanistan be any safer than when the war first started, way back in 2001? The main objectives were, after the devastating World Trade Center attacks in September 2001, for NATO to intervene in Afghanistan with the intentions of disassembling the terrorist al-Qaeda group as well as removing the Taliban government from power.

David Cameron has also said that a “basic level of security” has been achieved in Afghanistan as a result of military intervention. This is also true as the Taliban have been removed from their majority control of the country and al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was killed in 2011, proving that at least some of the aims have been successfully completed.  But the underlying truth is that al-Qaeda, although damaged by the death of Bin Laden, is still an active organisation, as is the Taliban with terrorist attacks regularly taking place in the still unstable country; in fact these attacks are so commonplace that news outlets no longer give them the high profile coverage that they have received in recent years.

Tens of thousands of civilians (some of whom were militants) have been killed since the war broke out in 2001. In addition to this, over 4,000 ISAF personnel (including 446 British soldiers) have been killed along with over 10,000 of the Afghan National Security Forces. All these deaths surely cannot justify the outcome of a slightly less dangerous Afghanistan but a country that could still rapidly fall back into decline if not stabilised fully – rather than just the somewhat stability which is being deemed satisfactory at the moment.

Of course some NATO (including American) soldiers will remain in Afghanistan in order to train the country’s own security forces and to provide some anti-terrorism assistance, but the numbers will be far less than the substantial amount of personnel currently there. Will the Afghan police and army really be capable of managing their own country in a year’s time? We have all heard about the shocking events that have unfolded in the recent past with rogue Afghan security officials conducting horrendous attacks on ISAF troops showing that it is extremely difficult to detect corruption amongst those charged with protecting the country once soldiers have left. Therefore what is to stop significant Afghan figures such as politicians and military leaders being left open to corruption? Afghanistan is deemed to have one of the most corruptible governments in the world, so the potential is there for the Taliban to edge its way back into a ruling position.

The Prime Minister, then, would appear to have got his facts absolutely right; there is a “basic level of security”, but “basic” is not enough. How long will it be before history inevitably repeats itself with al-Qaeda back carrying out horrific insurgent attacks across the world on a fairly regular basis and the Taliban seizing power once again in Afghanistan? My answer is: not very. To put it plainly, I would be surprised if British and NATO soldiers were not back fighting in Afghanistan in twenty years’ time, concluding that, overall, despite full withdrawal not occurring for another year, the Afghanistan war has not been a complete success.

BY: James Morris