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Afghanistan: a war we should be in?

By Channel 4 News

Updated on 19 August 2009

With the British military operation in Afghanistan taking a heavy toll, how do the people with the closest links to the conflict view our war there?

As the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan has risen sharply in recent weeks, so too have public doubts about the war they are fighting. 

Our foreign affairs correspondent Jonathan Miller asks if this has ever been a winnable war?

Studio discussion: a winnable war?

Channel 4 News brings together people in Britain who all have a stake in the Afghan war - from soldiers families to those trying to stop the  radicalisation of British Muslims.

Is the war worth the human cost?

Margaret Evison lost her son Lt Mark Evison in May 2009. She says:

"I support what the government is doing to deal with the issues of terrorism and in the end human rights."

Captain Neil Christie served in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2005. He says:

"There's a lot of trauma involved both psychologically, emotionally as well as physically for civilians involved in Afghanistan as well as our own guys on the ground.

"During the conflict it is highly traumatic.

"When the guys come back there's fundamental ramifications for their reintegration into society and if that's analysed from a holistic perspective I think it's flawed."

Rory Stewart is a former diplomat and resident of Kabul.  He says:

"I'm afraid what we're doing now is not worth it.  There are things that are worth it - for example counter-terrorism - but trying to garrison the country, chasing the Taliban around the country - No.

"We should be doing development projects, we should be trying to help people but I don’t believe this amount of killing either of British troops of afghan lives is worth it for these very vague objectives, very confused objectives which the government has set out.

"I don’t believe it's possible to build a state in Afghanistan. I disagree with the Colonel - the capacity doesn’t exist within the afghan government at the moment to start creating the kind of growth we are looking for.

"We basically have a strategy that is going to garrison the country, clear out the Taliban and then hope that somehow these natural green shoots are going to sprout - they won't. The capacity isn't there so we need to be realistic about what we are trying to achieve.

"Really we should be doing two things: a minimal quite light attempt to deter terrorism contained within the management of the country and secondly do what we can do to deliver development. Of course you can't have development without security but security does not necessarily mean almost 100,000 Nato troops. Fundamentally that security needs to come from afghans themselves and we haven’t been very good at creating the space for that.

"If our emphasis is on al-Qaida then let us focus on that very narrow group, let us also see what we can do in terms of development but get out of trying to control, hold, build and clear this country which is beyond us."

What is the end objective?

Colonel Richard Kemp commanded British Forces in Afghanistan in 2003. He says:

"In Afghanistan our exit strategy should be to develop the Afghan government's capabilities and the Afghan  security forces capabilities to an adequate level where they can take over management of the insurgency.

"At the same time writing down the insurgency by attrition of the insurgents and also by splitting away elements of the insurgency that can be split away.

"What we need is enough stability, enough security so that we don't see a resurgence of Taliban rule and allowing extremists like al-Qaida in there to operate from Afghanistan.

"You can't carry out reconstruction projects without security.

"Don't forget we're looking at Afghanistan as a country as a whole - Helmand is only one small part of Afghanistan, its one of the most dangerous parts. There are other areas where development and reconstruction is going on - you can't do that without security.

"We've got to fight in order to develop and build the country and build the country's ability to govern itself and critically to secure itself."

Should the Taliban be brought into the political process?

Toaha Qureshi is a Pakistani community worker. He says:

"Look at the IRA situation and Sinn Fein. We opened up dialogue with them and now we have peace. Why can't we have dialogue with Taliban.

"When Taliban was in control the poppy cultivation went down. Now 95 per cent of poppy is going from Afghanistan.

"The war is radicalising people more and more. What we have seen in this war on terror, in Pakistan for example, we never saw suicide bombing but now it has increased. And we see in Afghanistan as well there isn’t any developmental work going on - the developmental work would bring the people onboard - Pakistan or Afghanistan.

"Is the war worth it? I don’t think it is unless we stay there and rebuild the country."

Saleem Hashimi is an Afghan interpreter. He says:

"There are an element of them that could be integrated into the society and there are already some in the current government.

"The Afghan people in general are much more laid back and they will accept a secular government if we take the right steps and in the direction of reconstruction.

"As long as there are no jobs, as long as there is no income for the families, as long as people are going hungry - they will be prone to being influenced by people like Taliban or terrorists.

"The war is winnable with the right strategy in regards to the reconstruction being top priority and the rehabilitation of millions of Afghans who have been displaced. So we have to look at it in a general sense of what we can do for the Afghan people and also what we can do to get rid of terrorism in this country." 

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