On Monday, Britain joined a long list of invading nations that have failed to conquer or ‘liberate’ Afghanistan. As the Union Jack was lowered at Camp Bastion, 13 years of military occupation came to an embarrassing end. Not a single politician or military leader could sincerely defend the disastrous Afghanistan war. Conservative estimates state that around 21,000 civilians have been killed, but in reality the number of innocent deaths has surpassed that figure.
Britain’s total cost in the US-led war in Afghanistan is between £30bn and £37bn, which would pay for 1,464,000 NHS nurses, 408,000 NHS consultants, and 75% of the HS2 budget. According to Frank Ledwidge, author of the critical study,Investment in Blood, the cost of the Afghanistan war rose to a sum equivalent to more than £2,000 for every taxpaying household. With such an expensive war, what has Britain achieved? Absolutely nothing militarily or politically. 453 British soldiers have died, arguably in vain, as the Taliban are stronger now than ever before, and remains a de-facto government in many provinces. Furthermore, the world has become a more dangerous place as a result of Tony Blair and George Bush’s war on terror.
Earlier this week, Prime Minister David Cameron said: “We will always remember the courage of those who served on our behalf.” Such empty rhetoric is expected from a British PM who stubbornly refuses to admit not only a military defeat, but a moral one, and that’s exactly what Afghanistan was – a defeat. Following the footsteps of his predecessor in joining US military escapades against the will of the British public, many will be asking – where to next Mr Cameron?
Syria, Iraq and ISIS
I think it’s safe to assume that Britain will not commit to any ground invasions anytime soon – at least that’s something western forces have learnt from Afghanistan. Urban and guerrilla warfare is something that conventional armies find difficult to counter. The Taliban’s application of spontaneous ambushes and improvised explosive devices (IEDs) was a nightmare for British troops in Helmand. But that hasn’t stopped the UK from meddling and intervening in wars under the guise of combatting terrorism.
The Syrian revolution became a fully blown sectarian civil war very early on, with regional and international powers using it as a chessboard for power politics. Britain initially seemed committed to removing Bashar al-Assad by arming moderate factions of the Syrian opposition. When the tides were turning against the Assad regime and victory seemed imminent for the Islamist rebels, who were a stone-throw away from Damascus in early 2013, the UK’s policy radically changed to anti-rebels.
Since then, the UK has despatched six Tornado fighter jets to Iraq in the US-led campaign against ISIS – the Al Qaeda splinter group which currently controls large swathes of Syria and Iraq. This move came after ISIS executed British aid workersDavid Haines and Alan Henning. Defence secretary, Michael Fallon, has argued there is a strong military case for carrying the war against ISIS into Syria, as its strongholds are there and it will not be defeated unless it is attacked on both sides of the border. But the government has vowed to go back to parliament for approval before carrying out air strikes in Syria.
However, that hasn’t prevented Britain’s willingness to train moderate anti-Assad forces or arming the Kurdish Peshmerga in Iraq, namely the PKK – a listed terrorist organisation by NATO and the EU. The UK remains adamant that it will not deploy “boots on the ground”, and it seems very unlikely that Cameron would risk a return to a high-casualty military quagmire from which they have only just exited in Afghanistan with a general election around the corner.
It is clear that Britain is still trying to live up to its imperial greatness, but the undeniable fact is that it will forever remain in the shadows of the US. In comparison to other military and economic superpowers, the UK is the loyal ‘sick man of Europe’ who will blindly respond to the call of the White House. This country is still recovering from the recession, facing high unemployment rates and plagued with endless social problems, thus, it is in no position to be crusading around the Muslim world, or anywhere else for that matter.