Nick Harvey outlines the UK’s objectives in Afghanistan

Minister of State for the Armed Forces and Liberal Democrat MP Nick Harvey set out the government’s objectives in Afghanistan in a speech he gave during his visit to Denmark this week. He made clear the limits to what the government is now seeking to achieve:

We do not seek a perfect Afghanistan, but one able to maintain its own security and prevent the return of Al-Qaeda.

This is primarily a mission of national security.

We are neither colonisers nor occupiers.

We are there under United Nations Security Council endorsement and at the invitation of the Afghan Government.

We are not in Afghanistan to create a carbon copy of a western democracy, and we are not there to convert the people to western ways.

We seek the government of Afghanistan by the Afghans for the Afghans.

We insist only that it does not pose a threat to our security, our interests or those of our allies.

Neither a fully functioning democracy nor an end to corruption is necessary to meet those aims – and wisely so given that if those are the yardsticks for military intervention in a country, the UK would be militarily committed in dozens and dozens of countries around the world. Because of the more modest nature of the aims, Nick Harvey was able to repeat the pledge to withdraw British troops from combat within this Parliament:

Britain is clear that we will no longer have troops in a combat role by 2015, but we foresee an enduring role in the country as part of a wide relationship.

Harvey’s speech also highlighted how deeply intermingled Britain’s defence forces now are with other countries, well beyond the relations with the French which caught the news earlier this year:

British Prime Minister David Cameron said in his meeting with Lars Lokke Rasmussen in August: “our troops have fought together, have suffered together and sometimes, tragically, have died together.”

Over the last 20 years this has taken place first in the Balkans, then in Iraq and now in Afghanistan.

But we are also side by side fighting piracy off the Horn of Africa, under the NATO operation Ocean Shield.

We have a strong and active training, exercise and exchange programme.

We train together for Afghanistan and Denmark has air crew embedded in Joint Helicopter Command – and at the UK’s Permanent Joint Headquarters co-ordinating the Afghan mission.

We conduct together a series of planned activity such as the annual JOINT WARRIOR exercise.

British personnel are embedded in your Defence Ministry, Army Operations Command, and Royal Navy and Royal Air Force pilots fly your Lynx, Merlin and F16.

Nick Harvey’s speech both started and ended with a strong emphasis on the need for countries to work together:

There is an old Danish proverb: “No one is rich enough to do without a neighbour.”

The English poet John Donne put the same sentiment this way: “No man is an island, entire of itself.  Every man is a piece of the continent”…

No nation – no matter how large, no matter how powerful, no matter how rich in resources – can hope to secure its national interests acting alone…

I am a Liberal Democrat.

We are the most internationalist and pragmatically pro-European party in Westminster.

We instinctively understand the need to work together with other nations – and we embrace interdependence.

This new British Government will look outwards and forwards, not inwards and backwards.

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21 Comments

  • Simon Mcrath 16th Dec '10 - 10:18pm

    What a load of nonsense. How on earth is how national security helped by being in Afghanistan? On this basis we should be invading Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for financial terrorism and providing the safe havens for terrorist training.

    Not a single more British soldier should die to support the utterly corrupt Government of Afghanistan.

  • “Britain is clear that we will no longer have troops in a combat role by 2015, but we foresee an enduring role in the country as part of a wide relationship.”

    My only concern with timetables is that the Government will feel the need to keep to them even if the situation on the ground is not adequate to allow withdrawal. 2015 should be an aspiration, the NATO goals are clear and haven’t changed. There should be a roadmap drawn showing milestones to meeting these goals and then troops withdrawn only when they are met. Preferably by 2015.

    We owe it to our servicement to achieve this even if it does take longer than 2015. We owe it to the memory of the fallen. We also owe it to our national security. Iraq may have been a divisive war but Afghanistan should not be. 9/11 was launched from there and the Taliban provided a secure base for AQ to plan and train their operatives. This situation must not be allowed to return even if it means missing a deadline.

  • “Britain is clear that we will no longer have troops in a combat role by 2015, but we foresee an enduring role in the country as part of a wide relationship.”

    The above statement means that when the “trainers” can no longer be protected by the corrupt Afghan government it will be easier to get out of Afghanistan quickly, a bit like the Americans did in Saigon at the end of the Vietnam war.

    The Afghan National Army have not got a chance in hell against the “Taliban” with or without meaningful partners.

    @Steve Way “We owe it to the memory of the fallen.”

    I am with Simon Mcrath in saying that the time has come to pull as many combat troops out now so as not to prolong the inevitable failure of the present Afghan Government. Why waste more blood just as a face saving exercise for the western governments (and why put the poor bloody Afghans through more hell?).

    Afghanistan has been a disaster at every level for all involved and has achieved nowt except contracts for military industries and undertakers.

    Pakistan and Saudi Arabia are bigger threats to our national security through extremists. The difference here is that Afghanistan does not buy our very expensive jets and Pakistan is a Nuclear state and a damn sight more capable military wise than Iraq ever was. We could get into policy regarding North Korea and national security but that would be off thread.

    My favourite expression from my time in H.M. Forces and my idea for ongoing policy in Afghanistan is “P.U.F.O.” Pack Up and F*** Off. Sooner the better for everyone…

  • @Simon Mcrath
    ” How on earth is how national security helped by being in Afghanistan? ”

    Quite simply by stopping it being a country where terroist camps openly exist and where attacks on the west are planned.

    @bhainart
    I’m sorry but am also an ex-serviceman. And I could not disagree more. Many of my friends have served there over the last 10 years and some are off again in April. None share your views, most want the gloves to be taken off and to be allowed to complete the job.

    The Afghan government may be terrible, but they are less terrible than the Taliban. Girls are now allowed schooling, people get to vote. It’s still one of the worst places to live in the world, but it’s a lot better then it was.

  • The present Afghan government is as riddled with corruption and incompetent cronyism as Diem’s was in South Vietnam. More needs to be done to speak out against the failures of that regime, and that the Taliban were undoubtedly far worse is no excuse. The fact that we were quite willing to invade their country but shy away from something as impolite as teaching them the importance of governmental integrity seems utterly bizarre to me.

  • Andrew Suffield 17th Dec '10 - 12:52am

    The Afghan National Army have not got a chance in hell against the “Taliban” with or without meaningful partners.

    The Taliban is a few old men with delusions of power. Ten grandmothers armed with brooms could take them out.

    Problem with the Afghan National Army is they only have five, while coalition forces are facing off against the tribal Afghanis who have formed up under the Taliban banner to fight the invasion. Notably the Pashtuns, whose cultural beliefs demand that they fight any incursion into their territory.

  • Terrorist training camps still exist in Afghanistan and thanks to this pointless war their number have expanded hugely in Pakistan.

    Girls as young as 13 immolate themselves in fire rather than be force wed to older male relatives under the corrupt Karzia regime. Rape Laws are on the books now thanks to the corrupt Karzai regime. Torture and executions are still commonplace now under the corrupt Karzai regime.

    When even 60% of the American public think this war isn’t worth it you know that the British public are right to think this bloody quagmire must stop now. And if troops are still dying in five years to prop up Karzai the corrupt Mayor of Kabul then the public will punish those cheerleading this endless war at the ballot box.

  • It’s someone else’s country. It does not belong to the British government. British politicians have no right whatsoever to make any decisions about what sort of government it should have.

  • Nick Harvey is coming out with same nonsense we heard from the last government. We’re just making matters worse and proving to world the short-comings of our military capability.

    Let’s have a referendum as they’re in vogue at the moment:

    Q. Would you prefer to maintain our military presence in Afghanistan, OR would you prefer to keep the Forensic Science Service and keep the same numbers of police officers patroling our streets?

    Ditto libraries, leisure centres, street-cleaning, theatres, museums, archaeology. street lighting.

  • @Andrew Suffield
    “The Taliban is a few old men with delusions of power. Ten grandmothers armed with brooms could take them out.”

    Spoken as someone without experience methinks. They are organised, trained, well equiped and well funded. Our guys find them to be tenacious, agressive and sometimes fanatical fighters who, whilst over matched by our technical and military resources, are certainly not “a few old men”. Do not underestimnate their power it is certainly not just tribal Afghans with no real allegience.

    They have access to a good supply of foreign munitions and are able to deploy increasingly complex and effective indirect methods (IED’s / mortars etc).

    Ten grandmothers could not “take them out” and it is insulting to our service personnel to state this. 346 of our people have given their lives and the Taliban are yet to be truly defeated, try reading the following link before stating that “grandmothers” could do better.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-10629358

    I would like to see how long you would last carrying well over 100 lbs, in constant danger from IED’s and being attacked almost daily. Whatever your views on the conflict, to insult our servicemen and women as you have by the tone of your post is disgraceful.

    @RichardSM
    “Would you prefer to maintain our military presence in Afghanistan, OR would you prefer to keep the Forensic Science Service and keep the same numbers of police officers patroling our streets? ”

    Although it is a disgrace it is being closed, the forensic service would need to be kept to study the results of the additional trained terrorists operating in our country. It’s a sad fact, but a fact nonetheless that we do need a strong military.

  • @Steve Way
    “I’m sorry but am also an ex-serviceman. And I could not disagree more. Many of my friends have served there over the last 10 years and some are off again in April. None share your views, most want the gloves to be taken off and to be allowed to complete the job.”

    I cannot understand what you mean by most want to take the gloves off. Does this mean throwing all caution to the wind in the event of a contact, a sod the collateral damage (poor suffering Afghan civilians) . When I was serving indiscriminate shooting in or around civilians is not within my experience of British Army policy in a combat zone. Hearts and minds is proven to be the best course of action. I disagree and I have family fighting there also. For the record they think we should get the hell out sooner rather than later because our presence is making a bad situation worse…Maybe the “Gloves off” means total war? What does that mean?

    @Andrew Suffield

    If the Taliban are not an effective guerilla force then why the hell are we still there and more importantly why do western diplomats say that the only exit strategy that may work is to involve the Taliban in talks to facilitate a withdrawal with a minimum of embarrassment for the West. It does not sound like a load of old men with brooms to me and is not the experience of the troops that face them on the battlefield especially with the body count of British troops rising weekly. The AK47 is considered the most numerous assault weapon in the world and in the hands of a arthritic old man is a formidable weapon to face. The Pakistan armed forces in the border regions are not exactly winning either.

    I agree with Thomas when he sees a similarity between Diem’s corrupt puppet government in Vietnam. The policy by the Americans of withdrawal through “Vietnamisation” can be seen also in the Afghanistanisation of the future policy in the current war. The end result will I fear be the same with the worst outcome scenario being the one that ultimately will prevail. The west will scuttle off in helcopters and leave Afghanistan to it’s fate and I hope to God that I am proved wrong for the sake of the Afghani people.

    All the worst terrorist atrocities against UK were home grown. Some even trained in the Lake District and if following the logic of some comments above perhaps we should start bombing the whole National Park without delay for harbouring terrorist training camps…All in the cause of National Security of course.

  • @ Steve Way

    Utter nonsense. No one from Afghanistan has ever attacked this country. Our troops are supposed to be here, within our shores, defending this country. By being in Afghanistan, they’re not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.

    If there really is a terrorist threat to this country – and so far they’ve been home-grown – why are they cutting the very people trained to detect these plots?

  • Emsworthian 17th Dec '10 - 4:01pm

    I hate to hear a senior Lib Dem repeat the utterly worn out cliches about our involvement in Afganinstan.
    The fact is we are in there at the behest of Bush and have gone along with the myth that
    it’s in our national interest when the real problem is over the border in Pakistan. The Kabul regime’s writ
    hardly extends beyond the presidential palace while the rest of the feifdoms are kept on side with
    buckets of money from the US. So far Blair’s surviving foreign policy radicalised a generation
    on our own doorstep and made the UK one of the least safest places anywhere.

  • @bhainart
    “Maybe the “Gloves off” means total war? What does that mean?”

    It means giving effective rules of engagement, and allowing servicemen to detain those who are clearly combatants.

    For example, those who have been fighting our troops can drop their weapons and then be allowed to leave the scene or been released later. It means having enough forces in an area to keep the ground that you have fought for. No one, especially myself, would advocate total war. But constantly gaining ground then relinquishing it is not productive and does not allow “hearts and minds” a chance as locals can be back under taliban control (or at least influence) hours after meeing our guys to discuss how to improve the situation.

    In short it means allowing the guys on the ground the tools to do the job asked of them.

    @RichardSM
    “Utter nonsense. No one from Afghanistan has ever attacked this country. Our troops are supposed to be here, within our shores, defending this country. By being in Afghanistan, they’re not doing the job they’re supposed to be doing.”

    Our forces have never been designed purely to operate within our shores. Their role is to protect Britain and her interests wherever those interests are threatened. At least three generations of my family, including myself and my wife, have served overseas.

    “If there really is a terrorist threat to this country – and so far they’ve been home-grown – why are they cutting the very people trained to detect these plots?”

    I’m afraid you are wrong in this assessment. Prior to 2003 (when the UK did assist the recruiters by invading Iraq) there wer numerous attempts at terrorism within our borders planned and trained for from outside of the UK. There were dozens of training camps for terrorists within Afghanistan. Our homegrown terrorist used to train in the country with the full backing of the Taliban government. They sheltered AQ who gave freely arranged press conferences stating their intention to attack the West. MI5 have consistently stated that terrorismplots against the UK planned in Afghanistan have been foiled.

    There should be no cutting of the MI5 / Special Branch funding, but like other areas I guess the Government cuts are not where I would put them.

  • Andrew Suffield 18th Dec '10 - 2:57am

    If the Taliban are not an effective guerilla force then why the hell are we still there and more importantly why do western diplomats say that the only exit strategy that may work is to involve the Taliban in talks to facilitate a withdrawal with a minimum of embarrassment for the West.

    We’re still there because the coalition has shifted from fighting the Taliban (who are pretty much history) to fighting the tribes (who always held the power in southern Afghanistan). The message is still “Taliban Taliban Taliban” because they really don’t want somebody to ask “Why are we at war with the Pashtuns anyway?”

    The Pashtuns are well equipped, experienced fighters, who have an entirely legitimate grievance with our pointless incursion into their territory.

  • @Steve Way

    You didn’t manage to find evidence of any Afghans attacking this country, then?

  • @Steve Way

    If there really is a terrorist threat to this country – and so far they’ve been home-grown – why are they cutting the very people trained to detect these plots?

  • @Andrew Suffield
    “We’re still there because the coalition has shifted from fighting the Taliban (who are pretty much history) to fighting the tribes (who always held the power in southern Afghanistan). The message is still “Taliban Taliban Taliban” because they really don’t want somebody to ask “Why are we at war with the Pashtuns anyway?””

    Fair point Andrew, I am as guilty as the media in general for using the term Taliban. You are absolutely correct that the main “guerilla” forces we now face are Pashtun Afghans. However you say yourself that the locals fight under the banner of the Taliban and this is my understanding of the situation on the ground presently. I would not write off the Taliban just yet. Come the fighting season they will be back as strong as ever and the whole bloodbath will continue.

    The truth is nobody really knows the true overall picture on the ground. Iran is certainly pouring resources into Afghanistan and there are no shortage of foreign Jihads who are willing to fight (including British nationals). As a general draw down of US/UK forces begins the Taliban will return to fill the vacuum and we are, in National Security terms, back to square one. The whole war has achieved no tangible gains for anyone concerned hence my point that to pull out sooner rather than later seems the most sensible option.

    None of my comments are a criticism of our combat troops. They are doing what troops are paid to do and sadly that involves people that are actually trying to kill you on occasions. For a lot of the time both in Iraq and Afghanistan the poor bloody infantry has been ill equipped. It is a testament to the character of the British soldier that they perform the task they do knowing full well that the situation is generally hopeless yet remain resolute in their task. This is more remarkable when taking into account the ongoing losses amongst their ranks to IEDs and sniper fire.

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