Wednesday, 19 September 2012


Yesterday, Newport West Labour MP Paul Flynn was somewhat predictably suspended from the House of Commons after claiming that Defence Secretary Philip Hammond was lying to Parliament over the conflict in Afghanistan. He refused a request by the Speaker (John Bercow) to withdraw the accusation, was duly accused of "disorderly" behaviour, and was suspended from the chamber for the rest of Tuesday.

Equally predictably the Defence Secretary said that the comments were scandalous. Mr Flynn’s attack came during questions on NATO strategy in Afghanistan, as Mr Hammond denied suggestions that coalition military operation was being scaled down after a series of fatal (“Green on Blue”) attacks on international forces by Afghan troops they were training to take over security operations before the NATO withdrawal in 2014.

Predictable histrionics aside, Mr Flynn raises a valid point. You can put as much spin on it as you like, but it is difficult to put a positive spin on the fact that the US has suspended the training for new recruits to the Afghan local police while security checks are carried out on investigating any possible ties to the Taliban. This decision follows a number of incidents in which foreign troops have been killed by Afghan soldiers or policemen they have been training or working with.

As the 2014 deadline for the withdrawal of coalition forces in Afghanistan comes ever closer, the number of Taliban attacks looks to be increasing. The Labour MP for Newport West and a consistent opponent of the conflict, who was interviewed on BBC Radio Wales, noted that Dutch and Canadian troops had been withdrawn from combat and the UK should do the same.

The BBC liberates Kabul
It seems a very long time since the Taliban were routed from Kabul (and most of Afghanistan) following NATO's successful invasion of Afghanistan (back in 2001); the relative ease of victory turned out decidedly deceptive. If anyone had told us almost eleven years ago that some of our service personnel (including some of my relatives) would be effectively commuting back and for to Afghanistan to fight the Taliban insurgency many people may well have doubted their sanity.

The US and NATO seriously took their eyes of the ball by invading Iraq, Afghanistan was forgotten. Serious efforts to build up the Afghan army did not really start until 2009 by which time the security situation in Iraq was pretty grim. Prior to the renewed Taliban insurgency NATO's intended to create a small Afghan force to deal with internal disorder of a domestic variety rather than a full scale insurgency.

The new Afghan army should have provided the Afghan people with a visible sign of unity after several decades of brutal conflict and civil war. NATO’s training mission only began in earnest almost three years ago, at that point the Afghan army's desertion rate was around 85 percent. Things improved as from January to June (2011), NATO figures, showed that around 24,000 soldiers, some 14 percent of the 170,000-man force, deserted.

Once NATO departs, few impartial observers, doubt that after the Taliban and their militant allies will stream back into Afghanistan from their sanctuaries in neighbouring Pakistan no doubt refreshed, rearmed and refunded by the Pakistan military. By 2014 if Afghanistan's standing army is not unready and the Afghan government is not able to support it then some thirteen years of war, thousands of lives, and billions of dollars will have been squandered for nothing and the country will fall will some pretty grim consequences, even by Afghan standards, especially for Afghan women.

Another significant problem to be dealt with by 2014 is that the Afghan government, which is estimated to be probably the most corrupt government on earth. The levels of corruption show few signs of abating, with documented cases of Doctors working in government hospitals leaving wounded Afghan soldiers to expire in their hospital beds if bribes are not paid. For ordinary Afghans the medical infrastructure in the country could be best described as fragile.

Vast amounts of aid has been poured in Afghanistan in recent years, yet the Afghan government does not have a transparent, workable budget, at least not in the normal sense. For 2011 the Afghan budget was nominally $14.3 billion dollars over 90% of which comes from foreign aid, if past years are anything to go by much of it will be stolen way before it gets a chance of being spent on any intended purposes.

History repeated 1975? or 2015?
Once Afghanistan is out of sight and out of mind (just like Iraq) will the money keep flowing in? Or will the West make the same mistake is made in the late 1980s and drop any interest in the country? The last time that happened the Afghan people were abandoned following their defeat of the collapsing Soviet Union, they paid the butchers bill in spades.

After the civil war the Taliban swept into power...they appeared reasonable in comparison with the warlords (who are currently NATO’s gallant allies) and we should all be painfully aware of what followed.

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