Opinion: Time to end the ‘war on terror’ and bring all our troops home

Nick Clegg, writing in The Independent on Sunday, made many worthy suggestions as to how British foreign policy may now proceed, especially in light of the election of Barack Obama as US President.

He is right to argue that now is the time for a “regional agreement, similar to the Dayton Peace Agreement, involving all countries in the region, especially Iran.” He is right about the centrality of involving both Iran and Pakistan in negotiations and also splitting the Taliban.

However, all the things that make him right about these issues make his call for Britain to support “a troop surge in Afghanistan” even more wrong.

The fact is this; no elements of the Taliban will negotiate while British and American troops are pouring into the region. Nobody will negotiate with coalition troops inflicting heavy civilian casualties. This very day the US has been forced into an admission that “37 Afghan civilians were killed and 35 injured during a US air strike in the Kandahar province last week.”

Quite unbelievably, US forces targeted a wedding party. It is unlikely that either Britain or America would be accepted as the guarantors (and not even the brokers) of a ‘Dayton-like agreement’ while innocent civilians die at their hands.

Nick devotes one sentence to saying “Afghanistan cannot be won on the battlefield”, but spends the rest of the article bemoaning Britain’s lack of military resources and leadership – which says an awful lot in and of itself. It will be immediately obvious to anybody that a troop surge is likely to be counterproductive in reaching the type of accords that Nick has as his stated goal.

Where are the plans for developing Afghanistan’s infrastructure? Put simply, there are none. And that says to me that his mindset is still very much ‘battlefield orientated’. The UNHCR reports that Afghanistan is now at a ‘crossroads’:

Severe drought and food shortages have caused thousands of people to leave their villages in Afghanistan’s north and west to find work and aid.”

Unless something serious is done about problems like this then the displacement caused will not only be severely disruptive and costly for Afghan citizens, but will most likely have ramifications for the stability of the Karzai government and for the situation in Pakistan.

Plans to build a sustainable and vibrant infrastructure are hampered by focusing our efforts in the military field. Problems like the large scale production of opium are simply not being solved. The same paper he wrote for reported on October 14th that

In Helmand, one of the most volatile parts of Afghanistan, production rose by 1 per cent”


Right across Afghanistan, the government is corrupt and Afghans are fed up. The police organise kidnappings. Justice is for sale. Violence is spreading and people don’t feel safe. The progress promised in 2001 hasn’t been delivered.”

All of which brings me around to another reason why Nick’s military bravado is wrong. One presumes that he has not sat down with a calculator and worked out the cost of this surge – but I think it would be fair to say that it will run into billions. Money, of course, which simply is not ‘in the kitty’ right now.

What made Geroge Bush’s ‘War on Terror’ so disastrous, both in it’s conception and its execution, is that it was a war fought for purely ideological reasons. It is now high time it was declared over, and the first step to making that something more than a rhetorical flourish is a commitment by both Britain and America to withdraw troops from both Iraq and Afghanistan.

* Darrell Goodliffe blogs at Moments of Clarity.

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Liam Pennington 11th Nov '08 - 4:49pm

    With dark irony, it would be a terrible mistake to bring troops home without planning for the consequences, just as it was a mistake to take them there without planning either!

    We cannot argue, as a mature political party, for the same groundless “bring them home” schtick as the far-left and anti-everything types on the fringes.

    Our troops need to be sent home when it is clear the Afghan or Iraqi forces are able to look after their own areas, and even then we need to ensure the Red Cross and others can work there in peace.

    The “war on terror” is not some tangible part of history with a start and end point. It cannot be concluded any more than a start date can be identified.

  • Richard Huzzey 11th Nov '08 - 5:00pm

    Liam’s right that a selfish and speedy withdrawal could cause more problems; and I certainly think we now owe the peoples of Afghanistan and Iraq a debt to remain invested, interested and engaged in the reconstruction of their countries.

    But I fear the long-term presence of British and American troops may be part of the problem, not part of the solution, in Iraq in particular. We cannot credibly present ourselves as peacekeepers to a population in which a significant number resent the coalition invasion.

    We should seek – perhaps at greater financial cost – to support neutral peacekeepers and the regeneration of Iraq’s own security services. But a vision for long-term Western occupation of the country appears, in my view, to be counter-productive to peace and stability.

    On “the war on terror” – I suspect the paradigm of a traditional war fought against state sponsors of terror is unhelpful in suppressing the trans-national terrorist groups that threaten the lives of innocent people. It beggars belief that so much good will and so much attention has been directed to Iraq, rather than actually capturing Bin Laden.

  • Richard Huzzey 11th Nov '08 - 5:10pm

    For what it’s worth, you can see my piece on troops in Iraq from over two years ago:


  • David Allen 11th Nov '08 - 6:26pm

    I think Clegg and Obama share the same dilemma here. Both opposed Iraq. Both have made a feature of taking the opposite line on Afghanistan. One has to feel that the subliminal message may have been “Look, I’m not an out-and-out pacifist, here is how I prove it.” Well, now Obama has to decide what he will really do. I rather agree with Darrell. I hope Obama now knows that he doesn’t have to prove anything!

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