Parliamentary sketch – Leaving with heads held high
British troops complete their withdrawal from Afghanistan this week. Meanwhile historians will dip their pens and pass judgement on whether the mission was a success, failure or score draw.
There is no single score card against which we can rate the originally US-led mission in Afghanistan since the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
It was not until 2006 that British troops built camp in the most challenging province – Helmand.
It has been my privilege to visit Kandahar and Camp Bastion for two four day “tours”.
We know that, tragically, 453 British troops died in that operation. But was it a “war” or a “peace keeping and nation building” mission?
Over a 100,000 soldiers were commissioned to serve through Helmand province during the last eight years. We know and remember the high profile media announcements of the soldiers lost, their dignified arrival home, ceremonial journeys through Wotton Bassett and the grief. We also know that thousands of brave men and women have been very badly injured.
But virtually no one is aware of the schools that have been built and reopened, wells restored, roads constructed, Mosques resurrected, power supplies brought into communities previously without it, hospitals constructed…and a country more stable, having successfully held stable elections in recent months.
Of course, if the measuring stick is the defeat of the Taliban and a cut in poppy growing then the operation has failed. Certainly poppy growing is now at record levels!
Whilst Afghanistan has sucked in more than $100billion (£62billion) during the last 13 years, the economy has grown, millions more children (especially girls) are in school, universities and technical colleges turning out high quality graduates. There is a free media and the infrastructure has improved.
But the security situation remains poor. Women are still a long way from equality. Criminality and War-Lordism remain prominent in the countryside and Afghanistan remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world. The new President Ashraf Ghani described the country as “bankrupt”.
Whilst military casualties have declined civilian casualties have soared. This year being the worst for civilian casualties since 2001.
There is much to do, but also much to celebrate in terms of achievement in very difficult circumstances.
The troops I met were rightly proud of their measurable success. Their mission of peacekeeping and nation building had been misrepresented as “war”. A war they could not win. Our troops have a right to feel frustrated that their efforts and professionalism has been misunderstood and their achievements unrecognised.
I for one was impressed by what I saw and what they achieved. I salute them.
You can contact Andrew George by email: email@example.com. His constituency office can be contacted at Trewella, 18 Mennaye Road, Penzance, Cornwall, TR18 4NG. Telephone: 01736 360020.
Andrew George MP
Kernow a’n West ha Syllan
West Cornwall and the Scillies
Constituency of St Ives
Tel: 01736 360020
Fax: 01736 332866
28th October 2014