Why did British troops go to Afghanistan?

British troops were being killed and maimed in Afghanistan, yet Westminster politicians and top brass cannot offer coherent reasons for their presence in the country or an approach to Islam that makes any sense

British and Afghan soldiers
Vincent Cooper
On 12 November 2014 07:54

Why were British troops sent to fight in Afghanistan? The question is worth asking as, now that the last British troops have left the country, the top brass of the army are in serious disagreement with each other over the purpose of the whole enterprise.

In a letter to the Sunday Telegraph Colonel Richard Kemp, Former Commander of British Forces in Afghanistan rejected General Lord Dannatt’s claim that British Forces were deployed to help the Afghans “get a life after two decades of bloody civil war.”

Colonel Kemp dismisses Lord Dannatt’s almost social worker interpretation of the role of the army. He states categorically that British troops were sent to Afghanistan “to throw out or destroy al-Qaeda and to prevent the country from again becoming a base that international jihadists could use to attack the West.”

That’s a serious disagreement. In a war where well over four hundred British troops were killed and thousands injured, many maimed for life. The purpose of such suffering needs real justification, not contradiction.

Yet contradiction is what is on offer. Lord Dannatt seems to believe Britain went to war for humanitarian and social reasons. This interpretation contradicts not only Colonel Kemp, but Prime Minister Tony Blair, who sent in the troops in the first place. Mr Blair stated the war aim was to “shut down the terrorist network” and -- almost as an afterthought -- to destroy the heroin supply (the opium poppy crop).

So far, Colonel Kemp’s interpretation seems to agree with Tony Blair’s, yet John Reid, Labour’s defence secretary in 2005-2006 stated he would be “perfectly happy” if British troops in Afghanistan left “without firing a shot.” But how could British troops “shut down the terrorist network” without firing a shot?

British troops were being killed and maimed in Afghanistan, yet Westminster politicians could not offer coherent reasons for their presence. And the contradictions over Afghanistan took a further twist when Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said in 2009 that troops were there “as a result of our assessment of the terrorist threat facing Britain.”

The streets of Britain had now become the new front in the Afghan war. 

Later, under David Cameron, the Defence Secretary Liam Fox continued the same theme. British soldiers were not in Afghanistan “for the sake of the education policy in a broken 13th century country”, he said. The reason British troops were in Afghanistan was “so the people of Britain and our global interests are not threatened.”

The explanations for the war in Afghanistan had come full circle: to turf out al-Qaeda and burn the poppy-crop; to protect an education policy for Afghan women, and finally to protect the streets of Britain from Islamist attacks.

The politicians, from the safety of Westminster have chopped and changed for political convenience over the thirteen years of this Afghan war, while the troops put their lives on the line. 

Lucy Aldridge, mother of the youngest British soldier to fight in Afghanistan said: “I think that from the outset the conflict was ill-conceived, ill-planned, and I think that is something that definitely needs to be looked at post-withdrawal.”

Mrs Aldridge lost her brave son in that war. Given the vacillation of Westminster politicians, she surely deserves the enquiry that she demands.

But if British troops were in Afghanistan to fight “the terrorist threat facing Britain”, why was Muslim immigration to Britain not severely reduced or stopped altogether, at least as an emergency? After all, the main way an al-Qaeda terrorist can hit the UK is by being here. Not all Muslims are terrorists of course; only a tiny minority. But it is from within the Muslim community that most terrorists come.

We saw this with 9/11. Islamists entered the US from Germany and other countries determined to smash aircraft into buildings. Why would they not attempt the same in Britain? In fact we know that some did enter Britain while British troops were out in Afghanistan “protecting Britain’s streets.”

Rajib Karim, a Bangladeshi national, entered the country in 2006 with the express aim of committing terrorism. He worked for British Airways as a computer expert and was convicted of plotting to blow up an aircraft.

Sending British troops to Afghanistan “as a result of our assessment of the terrorist threat facing Britain” is entirely incompatible with unchecked Muslim immigration to Britain. But that's a subject our society is too frightened to discuss, isn't it?

Vincent Cooper is a regular contributor to The Commentator

blog comments powered by Disqus