| 6.1°C Belfast

This is not the end, it is just another beginning

For all the talk of wars between countries and ideologies, the vast majority of conflicts become personalised.

It is easier to build up hatred for an individual than it is for a state or an organisation: Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi - the names of despots and villains roll off the tongue.

The first reaction among British soldiers still fighting in the rising heat of Afghanistan at the news that Osama bin Laden had at last been killed would have been one of quiet satisfaction: Gotcha.

After all, it was Osama bin Laden's murder of 3,000 people on US soil on 9/11 - September 11, 2001 - which ultimately caused the brutal killings of more than 360 of my colleagues over the past decade, with many more colleagues severely wounded.

The second reaction might be to ask: what took you so long? If you focus your attack on one person and you catch him, then that's fine.

But it's shaming - and, moreover, dangerous - if you don't. A mere mortal who evades a superpower for so long starts to assume the mantle of the superhuman.

The next reaction will be one of concern, for now will come the aftershock. What enemy worth its salt will not try to avenge the death of its leader.

Daily Headlines & Evening Telegraph Newsletter

Receive today's headlines directly to your inbox every morning and evening, with our free daily newsletter.

This field is required

It would, indeed, be surprising if bin Laden's death was not followed by a rise in attacks on Western targets - though not necessarily on soldiers serving in the Afghanistan theatre.

The main reason for entering the country back in 2001 was not to destroy bin Laden's terrorist group, but to undermine the Taliban regime that provided it with a safe haven. To that end, the real prize is Mullah Omar.

Those fighting British troops do so for a variety of reasons: some are farmers; some are drug-dealers, criminals and mercenaries out to make money from the mayhem.

Only a few are ideologues and they may find targets outside Afghanistan more appealing.

That bin Laden was hiding, not in a cave in the lawless tribal areas between the two 'stans', but in a large complex close to a major Pakistan military establishment, will only serve to confirm the widespread belief among British soldiers that they have been fighting a Pakistani-backed and Pakistani-financed insurgency ever since we arrived in Helmand province in force.

But, then, the armed forces have always been a political tool; often fighting - and dying - for causes that are far from noble and rarely clear-cut.

For example, few soldiers believed they were engaged in a 'War on Terror', complete with one clear enemy. As in all wars, soldiers fight less for Queen and Country than for each other. You can trust the man lying beside you in a filthy ditch in a remote corner of the globe far more than the person who sent you there.

As British troops head out on patrol today across Helmand province, they might spare a few moments to ask whether bin Laden's death is, in fact, a game-changer.

The evidence around them suggests not. The main base - at Camp Bastion - has achieved a state of near-permanence.

The endgame in Afghanistan is to ensure its long-term stability. The taking-out of a figurehead, like Osama bin Laden, does not guarantee that. Just ask the families of those British soldiers who continued to die in Iraq long after Saddam Hussein was dead and buried and those who will give their lives in Afghanistan long after the demise of Osama bin Laden.


Top Videos



Privacy