16 Dec 2013

Afghanistan: mission accomplished?

David Cameron was answering a question from a Sun reporter on his trip to Afghanistan. Do British forces return with “mission accomplished?” He replied: “Yes, I think they do.”

He then engaged with the premise repeatedly talking about the “mission.”

But the truth is this was a conflict with changing missions over time: from clearing out al-Qaeda to creating a modernised nation, crushing the drugs trade to the most recent defined purpose, leaving the Afghan military with what the defence secretary has called a “fighting chance” of achieving some sort of stability.

Lord West, who was Nato fleet commander in chief at the time of the post 9/11 attack on Afghanistan, said the only “mission” that was accomplished was the original one to clear out al-Qaeda a within the first 12 months . He says what followed was years of “mission creep”. At the strategic level the whole thing had been an “error”.

David Cameron is normally very careful not to engage with a toxic phrase or premise, and they don’t come much more toxic than the 1 May 2003 moment when President George W Bush proclaimed job done in Iraq. It was only 42 days after the US had started its attack on Iraq but there would be another 3,153 days still to come before the last US combat troops came home from Iraq.

George W Bush subsequently acknowledged it had been a “mistake.”

David Cameron didn’t quite walk into the same error. There’s no question British forces will come back next year even if the situation in Afghanistan deteriorates, as it might, around the April elections.

But he won’t be thrilled with the headlines his answer has spawned – and the echoes they revive.

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5 reader comments

  1. Caliban says:

    In order for a “mission to be accomplished” it’s quite important to know what the mission was meant to accomplish.

    As the objectives of the West in Afghanistan were never made clear (probably because they never existed) it’s pretty hard to decide whether they were achieved.

    If a you conspire with a terrorist organisation to attack the most powerful nation on earth and succeeds in killing and maiming thousands of it’s citizens you must expect something rather unpleasant to happen. The Taliban did, and it did.

    So a punitive mission was always going to happen, and Afghanistan was not going to be a nice place to be, for some time.

    The Alliance achieved that objective easily. Then the mad bit started. Some loon got it into his head that Afghanistan could be transformed into a liberal democracy. So we wasted lives and treasure on this fantasy with no hope whatsoever it would succeed.

    And just in case anybody suspected it might possibly work, another fools errand mission was started in Iraq. Thus insuring the Afghanistan adventure would fail and creating two disasters instead of one.

    America is the most powerful military power the world has ever seen. It just can’t win wars. Every war it has embarked on since WW2 it has lost either immediately or later*. When they were asked to back yet another US military adventure, one might have expected our politicians to have noticed this. And maybe even left them to fail alone.

    But – we had an unfortunate concurrence of religious zealot leaders. George W Bush and Tony Blair. And I suspect the notion of another crusade was just too sexy for our Tony to resist. He even got to wear a cowboy hat.

    To be fair, they did rather well in Grenada. An enterprise somewhat akin to invading the island of Sark.

  2. Andrew Dundas says:

    Another media relations blunder! Another hostage to fortune.

    Why is our PR man-in-chief so badly out-of-touch?

  3. Philip Edwards says:


    I can’t believe you believe any of those alleged motives for invading Afghanistan and mass murdering its people.

    Please check out the facts about proposed transiting oil and gas pipelines by various nations. Then factor in demonstration revenge attacks (it scarcely mattered where, but the more vulnerable and weak the better) for the terrorist attacks on New York and London. It all adds up to the usual evil Western colonialist nonsense.

    The Eton head boy is the least of it, a mere puppet, a convenient mouthpiece. He may not be as outright moronic as Bush 2 but he serves the same purpose.

  4. sakhi shams says:

    SO that is good,if devid camroon concentrate about real the security situation ,so it will be better.
    i do belive this man and afghan president do play up destiny of afghan people,the afghan will face to econimic problem day by day because these person dont work at afghanistan as honesty.

  5. Anthony Alfidi says:

    Many narratives blame the US and its allies for problems in Afghanistan. The US has limited opportunities to tell new stories. http://thirdeyeosint.blogspot.com/2013/12/hidden-narratives-in-afghanistan.html

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