Told You So

Over and over.


It’s not as if we don’t have a history. When the paras moved into Camp Price just outside Gereshk in May and their commander had his first meeting with local officials, it took the Afghans just 10 minutes to bring up the battle of Maiwand. One of the worst defeats ever suffered by the British Army in which more than 1,000 men were slaughtered by the side of the Helmand River, the battle may have happened in 1880 but Afghans in Helmand talk about it as if it were yesterday and all claim that their forefathers were there.

If any further reminder were needed that one gets involved in Afghanistan at one’s peril, the Kabul headquarters of the Nato-led peacekeeping force is on the site of the old British cantonment. Its entire strength fled from here in January 1842 after a tribal revolt against the British-imposed ruler.

Of the 16,000 soldiers, wives, children and camp followers who left, only one got away; the rest were massacred or taken prisoner by Ghilzai tribesmen. Only Dr William Brydon was deliberately left alive to tell the tale and warn people back home of the consequences of getting involved in Afghanistan.

In a country that has ended up as a graveyard for so many thousands of British soldiers, why don’t we learn from history?

This time the politicians tell us that we have gone to make peace, not war — to “secure the area so that development can take place and extend the reach of the Karzai government”. But we are woefully underequipped for either: already six British soldiers have lost their lives within 24 days, victims once more of the Ghilzai Pashtuns.

Last month saw 53 “TICs” — troops in contact, in other words under Taliban attack — and last week there were two nights during which all but one of the British bases and outposts in Helmand came under attack.

How did it all go so wrong? Why does a senior British military officer talk despairingly of “military and developmental anarchy”?

AFGHANISTAN was supposed to be the success story.

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