The long game

IssueJune 2011
News by Gabriel Carlyle

British forces are likely to remain in Afghanistan long after David Cameron’s 2014 deadline for the end of Britain’s “combat” mission, according to the commander of British forces in the country, general James Bucknall.

Bucknall told the Guardian, “December [2014] is not a campaign end date but a waypoint – a point at which the coalition security posture changes from one that is in the lead to one that is mentoring and advising, but is still here.”

Following press reports that the Obama administration was “alarmed” by an alleged British push for early British withdrawal, David Cameron clarified that his announced withdrawal of 400 troops would simply return overall UK troop levels to “the enduring force level” of 9,500, following a recent temporary rise.

British plans appear to be in harmony with US plans to draw down troop levels and rely increasingly on special forces raids and aerial bombing. According to the Telegraph, current US thinking envisages keeping between 20-30,000 troops on the ground after 2014.

Author and analyst Anatol Lieven suggests that implementing such a plan “means that the Taliban will continue their war” as the Taliban leadership “have declared categorically that they will fight on as long as any US forces remain in Afghanistan”, and may well lead to the disintegration of the current Afghan government followed by civil war in government-controlled areas. Far better, he notes, to try and negotiate a peace settlement now.


Meanwhile, a survey conducted by the (pro-war) International Council on Security and Development in April-May found that 69% of men in southern Afghanistan blamed NATO for most civilian deaths. 12% thought that Afghan security forces killed more civilians than the Taliban, with only 10% saying the Taliban caused a larger percentage of civilian deaths.

In Sangin district in Helmand province – handed over by British forces to US control last year – an astonishing 99% of interviewees thought that NATO military operations were “bad for the Afghan people”. In the southern provinces of Helmand and Kandahar as a whole, 87% thought NATO military operations were “bad for the Afghan people”. In southern Afghanistan, 61% of interviewees supported negotiations to end the war and in northern Afghanistan the figure was 53%.