Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Reporter Harry Miller
As I boarded the C17 flight out of Helmand Province and back home I thought about the involvement of British troops in Afghanistan and what it had accomplished so far.
With nearly 9,000 troops spread across a region twice the size of Wales their task here is hard at best, impossible at worst.
But, for some reason, with their limited amount of manpower and their forces spread thinly across the region they seem to be winning both the fight against the Taliban and the hearts and minds war.
Local Afghans seem almost pleased to have a force there that not only protects their economic interests but protects them from harm too.
I saw first hand, in one of the rooms of a compound I was staying in, the scars left by the Taliban regime. Blood, excrement and scratches littered the walls of what was thought to be a Taliban torture chamber.
Money was extorted from the locals by way of taxing their crops and their living and drug addiction was rife.
Now, young adult males are being recruited into the newly formed Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police and are being given the chance to play a part in the reconstruction of their country.
The hardest thing to work out is whether the Afghans, detecting the cash and benefits that come with coalition involvement, are just playing the waiting game until they leave so they can go back to their former, almost biblical existence, the gamble for the coalition is if they are.
As a country Afghanistan has never been conquered. The people here have experienced thousands of years of war and have never succumb to outside influence. They have always kept their religion and their way of life and as I walked through villages and compounds I realised just how happy they were.
The children, filthy, wearing torn and dirty clothes,were ultimately, happy. They make do with stones and kites, working in the fields with their family, harvesting their crops.
Their almost biblical existence does not look like it will be changed by what the west is trying to achieve out there.
As one sergeant told me: “The Afghans take great pride in telling us they have never been conquered.” which rings as true today as it did when Alexander the great tried to interfere in a country that simply wants to be left alone.
No matter how much electricity or running water the coalition can bring to them they will still live the same existence and grow the same crops even when a central government, friendly to the allies, has been installed and trusted with the running of this magnificent country and people.
The cost, both and financially and human cannot, in my eyes, be justified if the end result is for the country to simply revert back to its former state.
Yes, women are much more free to learn and are almost gaining the same opportunities as men, but this is still a strictly Muslim country and there are dozens of other countries across the globe that treat women just as poorly who have not had the pleasure of 20,000 coalition troops to bring it out of the stoneage.
I wonder whether Afghanistan's step forward into “civilised society” is just a temporary measure to placate the coalition until it leaves.
Afghanistan has, and always will be, a haven for extremists and as soon as one dies, another ten are recruited either through a mutual belief or money to take their place.
What is confusing, to both me and the troops, is how the focus has shifted from the dreaded and much publicised Al-Qaeda to the Taliban.
When I asked how this change had happened I was often met with a wall of silence as nobody seemed prepared to offer their opinion on the matter.
When the coalition first entered Afghanistan in 2002 it was to hunt down and bring to justice members of Al-Qaeda, those responsible for the devastating attacks on New York, September 11, 2001.
The focus then changed from fighting the Taliban, the people responsible for harbouring the 'terrorist' organisation, then it was fighting Islamists for the sake of national security and now it is the stabilisation and reconstruction of the country.
Whatever the real reason behind Britain's involvement in Afghanistan young men are losing their lives for very little pay and very little benefits. They carry enormous amounts of equipment for hours at a time and sleep and eat in either baking hot tents or in the shells of former Taliban compounds.
They endure hardships for reasons they can't comprehend and put their life on the line for an ideal that isn't their own.
Whether the Afghans were better off with the medieval Taliban or with coalition forces is anyone's guess and while some of the civilised areas of the country seem to prefer life under the protection of the coalition other areas are indifferent and some still totally resent its interference.
Only time will be able to tell if the British involvement in Afghanistan will prove fruitful and hopefully their plan will come to fruition before many more lives are lost for an wishful ideal.