Attention on the Upper Deck, Face Aft and Salute

In 2015, I wrote after we had finally pulled our troops out of Afghanistan and the Taliban were again threatening to swamp Sangin Province and our government having failed to learn the lesson last time are sending in Special Forces to “Advise” Afghan forces.  What was it Bob Dillon sang? “When will they ever learn?”

We then had the “Arab Spring” codswallop from our politicians after much chest thumping as Colonel Muammar Gaddafi met his maker.  After complete cock-ups in the Middle East with the wonderful Arab Spring with Libya, Iraq 1, 2 and 3, Syria, Kurdistan and Islamic State. Cameron’s poodle, Defence Minister Philip Hammond has announced to parliament that we don’t need the backing of parliament to send troops into Libya and he is deploying 1000 soldiers to help fight ISIS threat.  Apparently we already have around 100 British Special Forces deployed there.  Here we go again!

My blogs are a very personal outlet for my feelings and my readers will attest that I can get a bit hot under the collar on occasion.  This is such an occasion. 

Perhaps I should once again nail my colours to the mast, I am a Navy Veteran and began my military career during the ‘Cold War’ and trained in Arctic Warfare.  I then spent the rest of my time in the Middle East, embracing Aden, Suez and Cyprus all SNAFUs in their way but all absolutely necessary according to the politicians (spit)        (situation normal another f**k up.) 

 . . . . . . I perhaps also ought to further mention that I have a few good friends in the Royal Marines who served a couple of terms in Helmand in the early days.  They returned home uninjured, battle hardened and as cynical as I.      

In 2015, the long prayed for troop withdrawal from Afghanistan finally happened.  In Camp Bastion the Army lowered the Union Jack for the last time.  The memorial there etched with hundreds of names of the fallen was dismantled and flown home.  If it had remained it would have been desecrated and destroyed.  What a manifestation of the failure of Britain’s Afghan Mission.

Our troops have been giving their young lives for us in Afghanistan for longer than we were fighting in both World Wars.  UK forces have been in Afghanistan for thirteen long years and for what?  The death toll now exceeds that of the Iraq War and over 100 soldiers died last year.

It started in 2002 just after 9/11 in New York for which George W Bush blamed Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden personally.  He had information that Bin Laden was hiding in the caves of Afghanistan and he demanded that the Taliban Islamist rulers of Afghanistan should extradite Bin Laden and his associates.

He began an operation to drive out Al Qaeda and depose the Taliban government by air power and Special Forces alone. – Does that sound familiar to you? – He supported local Warlords and this was dramatically successful.  It all went downhill from there, the Washington Administration became hell-bent on invading Iraq and having supported the new Kabul Government a la Hamid Karzai to a point, they then left him swinging in the breeze while George W and his poodle Tony Blair left on another adventure.

In the years that followed as Iraq burned in chaos, Afghanistan staggered towards collapse with Taliban resurgence.  There is plenty of criticism for those foolish enough to underestimate the perils of involvement in a country that has over the centuries, eaten invading armies for breakfast.  Not least the British, who in Helmand Province rediscovered the kind of desperate frontier fighting not witnessed since the early days of Empire.

In 2006 with the US Army up to their neck in blood, sand and bullets in Iraq, the ‘special relationship’ was brought to bear and Tony Blair had the reckless decision thrust upon him to take the strain in Afghanistan and the British Army  should accept the responsibility for the toughest Province of the most corrupt nation in the world.

The British Army took on Helmand Province determined to bring order, justice and peace.  Using well thought out tactics, Blair decided that a battalion group of just 2,500 men would be sufficient for this task and only a third of them were fighting soldiers.  Defence Secretary John Reid went further by saying that they would soon be home without a shot being fired.

Within a few months 3 Para were suffering crippling losses.  The politicians blamed the generals and generals blamed the politicians.  Whoever’s fault it was there was no doubt that the poor bloody infantry was in deep do-do and were in a desperate mess.  Everything went downhill from there; in fact it went £37billion downhill from there.

Throughout all the military mistakes both British and Americans have attempted to work with Afghan Warlords and local Chieftains who obviously have only their own interests at heart. Western war propaganda has so demonised the Taliban that few politicians have the courage to propose the obvious and inevitable: a negotiated settlement to this pointless war.

The Karzai government could not extend its authority beyond Kabul because that would have meant overthrowing the Uzbek and Tajik drug-dealing warlords and Communists chiefs that are the base of their power.

We should not forget The Soviet war in Afghanistan lasted nine years from December 1979 to February 1989. Part of the Cold War, it was fought between Soviet led Afghan Forces against multi-national insurgent groups called the Mujahidin, mostly composed of two alliances – the Peshawar Seven and the Tehran Eight. The Peshawar Seven insurgents received military training in neighbouring Pakistan and China as well as weapons and billions of dollars from the United States, United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia.  All on the grounds of my enemy’s enemy is my friend.

This Mujahidin who call themselves the Soldiers of God or in Pashtu, Taliban were thus armed and trained by the West and our Special Forces.  We have sown the wind and reaped the whirlwind, we have tried to change a medieval society into something different and we hoped something better, not sure for whom.

We leave behind a country with a few more schools and some of its women liberated from traditional servitude and predictably Hamid Karzai has got his running boots on.  We leave behind a country which produces 80 percent of the world’s illegal opium.  Some legacy!

Taliban is not a terrorist movement as is now claimed and demonised by western propaganda, but was founded as an Islamic religious movement dedicated to fighting Communism and the Drug Trade.

The current war in Afghanistan is not really about Al-Qaeda and terrorism, but about opening a secure corridor through Pashtun tribal territory to export the oil and gas riches of the Caspian Basin of Central Asia to the West. The US and NATO forces in Afghanistan are essentially pipeline protection troops fighting off hostile natives. So we have had a deadly, bloody, conflict that Tony Blair declared would save the West from Al Qaeda and would eradicate Opium production.  Makes one proud to be British.

Now as we once again are returning troops into Afghanistan having learned nothing, especially who our enemy is. We are also in the Middle East bombing Syria or is it Daesh? Or is it Iraq?  

We are backing the President of Turkey to join the EU even though he has declared he wants to become 12 Caliph – head of Islam in the whole world. This is once again our NATO ally who approves of beating Kurdish women with clubs.  He sounds an ideal member of the EU provided we are out of it. 

I’m no military strategist but I’ve enough experience to recognise a SNAFU when I see one. 

About Jake

Long retired travel writer, author and freelance journalist. Educated at Wolverton Grammar and Greenwich Naval College. Happily married since 1958, with a married son and daughter, a married granddaughter and an adult grandson. Hobbies rock-climbing, dinghy racing and ocean racing. Still regularly working out in the gym.

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