Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 3 September 2015

Is Afghan war really worth it?

Published 27/08/2009

The Government argues that it is justifiable to send troops into Afghanistan. Maybe it is, but is it wise?

I would argue that it is extremely questionable in the light of experience.

In 1842, the retreat from Kabul to Grandamak saw more than 15,500 people killed on the British side alone: 690 British soldiers, 2,840 Indian soldiers and 12,000 local followers.

The proportion of deaths by nationality is interesting: casualties among the Afghans are not recorded.

In spite of a retaliatory expedition the following year, Britain eventually conceded that the game wasn't worth the candle and left.

More than a century later, the Russians fared no better. In their 10-year occupation, from 1979 to 1989, they lost more than 14,500 men — not to mention more than 500,000 sick, many suffering from worse drug habits than the Americans in Vietnam. Again, Afghani losses are not well-documented. Now we are at it again.

In the current session, the final butcher's bill, not just for fighters on both sides but for civilians caught up in it all, has not yet been presented, but is rising steadily.

Whether they should be there or not, troops on the ground are not helped by the legendary incompetence of the mandarins at the MoD who consistently fail to provide them with weapons and kit of the right quality in the right quantity at the right time.

There is an old tale that the Zulus massacred 1,200 of Lord Chelmsford's men at Isandlwana in 1879 because there wasn't enough ammunition — or, if there was, quartermasters wasted time with paperwork, delaying issue until it was too late.

In the 21st century what has changed? Certainly not the sloth, certainly not the incompetence and definitely not the determined refusal to change,

to learn or to have any regard whatsoever for our young men sent abroad to die.



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