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Omens for an Afghan exit are not good

By Alex Thomson

Updated on 08 February 2010

On the day total UK military fatalities in Afghanistan equal those suffering during the Falklands war, Alex Thomson warns that the current troop surge in the country may not produce real change.

British soldier in Afghanistan (Reuters)

Another week, another milestone. So now the same number of British forces have been killed in Afghanistan over nine years or so, as were killed in the few weeks of the Falklands war.
Two more today, from the Royal Regiment of Scotland. Yet again it looks like an IED which killed them, and yet again, too, it is the area around Sangin.
Sangin, the very place the MoD were so keen that Channel 4 News visit a couple of years ago. Curiously they appear a lot more reluctant this time around. I hope to be there towards the end of this month of soon after. But they are not exactly enthusiastic.
'Tis a pity, since it is only by constantly revisiting places over the years of this war that you gain a true appreciation of how things are altering across time. And time there has been a lot of.
The Falklands war was a done deal over a few short weeks of intense fighting. In Afghanistan soldiers are now being killed, let us not forget, who were still at school when this war began. It's a longer war now that the first and second world wars by a country mile.
The brass and the politicians are lining up to say that this year is crucial, vital, a turning point. The British are only able to achieve anything at all in Helmand because they are now backed by 16,000 US Marines in Helmand. Along with increasing numbers of Afghan army and armed police, the British hope that the latest unfolding operation will produce a real change in the security of the region.
That is our only possible exit strategy, and the omens are not good.
Ten British soldiers lost their lives in the Babaji district in order to produce "security" for the corrupt Afghan election last August. That security was never achieved. Two more British soldiers have been killed there in the past month or so.
All of which would suggest that the recent comments by Mr Kai Eide have some truth. The Norwegian UN special representative to Afghanistan believes British - and Nato - military policy is doomed.
It is based on the CLEAR – HOLD - BUILD principle. You clear out the Talibs, you hold the area, you rebuild and reconstruct to create permanent public support for your presence.
Mr Eide said recently to The Times, you cannot clear out people who are villagers foremost, fighters second, and who resent western occupiers being there and will likely do so till their dying day.
Because of that, you cannot hold the ground. You cannot anyhow because there are not enough Afghan army personnel to do that, let alone Nato.
Thus you cannot hope to build.
Nato says this is bunk, and the increasing numbers of ANA troops will help bolster the plan. 15,000 in the latest operation around the Marjan area would underline that point.
But the real issue comes in time. Will this truly be some kind of turning point or will it simply be another Babaji where, arguably, British soldiers gave their lives in vain.

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