Sunday, 16 August 2009

Afghanistan-200 dead and counting

Gordon Brown says “Britain must remain in Afghanistan and "honour its commitment" to make the country stable”

This morning, the Ministry of Defence said that the 201st casualty, from 2nd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, also died yesterday from his injuries after being caught in an explosion on a foot patrol near Sangin in Helmand.

Neither man was named, but the families of both have been informed.

Sixty-four of the deaths happened this year, with 31 in July and August alone. The great majority of the casualties died in bombings as insurgents honed their tactics through the use of improvised explosive devices.

The prime minister said the new deaths were tragic, but insisted the soldiers' "vital mission" was worthwhile.

"Every man and woman fighting for their country is someone's son or daughter, someone's brother or sister, or someone's father or mother," he said. "Every death leaves a hole in a family's life that will never be filled. We are hugely indebted to those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and today my thoughts are with the families and friends of all those soldiers who have died in Afghanistan serving our country.

"Today is a day of mourning, and also a day of reflection.

I want to thank the entire armed forces and the families and communities which sustain them. We will honour and support those who have been killed or wounded in the field of battle. And we will give those who fight on all the support that they need to succeed in this vital mission."

Britain's roll of honour ranges from six 18-year-olds to a 51-year-old senior aircraftsman, and includes the most senior British soldier to die in combat for 27 years and a female intelligence officer.

This of course isn’t the first time that Britain has “invaded” Afghanistan.

With the failure of the Burnes mission (1837), the governor general of India, Lord Auckland, ordered an invasion of Afghanistan, with the object of restoring shah Shuja (also Shoja), who had ruled Afghanistan from 1803 to 1809. From the point of the view of the British, the First Anglo-Afghan War (often called "Auckland's Folly") was an unmitigated disaster. The war demonstrated the ease of overrunning Afghanistan and the difficulty of holding it.

An army of British and Indian troops set out from the Punjab in December 1838 and by late March 1839 had reached Quetta. By the end of April the British had taken Qandahar without a battle. In July, after a two-month delay in Qandahar, the British attacked the fortress of Ghazni, overlooking a plain that leads to India, and achieved a decisive victory over the troops of Dost Mohammad, which were led by one of his sons.

The Afghans were amazed at the taking of fortified Ghazni, and Dost Mohammad found his support melting away. The Afghan ruler took his few loyal followers and fled across the passes to Bamian, and ultimately to Bukhara, where he was arrested, and in August 1839 Shuja was enthroned again in Kabul after a hiatus of almost 30 years. Some British troops returned to India, but it soon became clear that Shuja's rule could only be maintained by the presence of British forces. Garrisons were established in Jalalabad, Ghazni, Kalat-iGhilzai (Qalat), Qandahar, and at the passes to Bamian.

Opposition to the British-imposed rule of Shuja began as soon as he assumed the throne, and the power of his government did not extend beyond the areas controlled by the force of British arms.

Dost Mohammad escaped from prison in Bukhara and returned to Afghanistan to lead his followers against the British and their Afghan protégé. In a battle at Parwan on November 2, 1840, Dost Mohammad had the upper hand, but the next day he surrendered to the British in Kabul. He was deported to India with the greater part of his family. Sir William Macnaghten, one of the principal architects of the British invasion, wrote to Auckland two months later, urging good treatment for the deposed Afghan leader.

Shuja did not succeed in garnering the support of the Afghan chiefs on his own, and the British could not, or would not, sustain their subsidies. When the cash payments to tribal chiefs were curtailed in 1841, there was a major revolt by the Ghilzai.

By October 1841 disaffected Afghan tribes were flocking to the support of Dost Mohammad's son, Muhammad Akbar, in Bamian. Barnes was murdered in November 1841, and a few days later the commissariat fell into the hands of the Afghans. Macnaghten, having tried first to bribe and then to negotiate with the tribal leaders, was killed at a meeting with the tribal chiefs in December. On January 1, 1842, the British in Kabul and a number of Afghan chiefs reached an agreement that provided for the safe exodus of the entire British garrison and its dependents from Afghanistan.

Unfortunately, the British would not wait for an Afghan escort to be assembled, and the Ghilzai and allied tribes had not been among the 18 chiefs who had signed the agreement. On January 6 the precipitate retreat by some 4,500 British and Indian troops with 12,000 camp followers began and, as they struggled through the snowbound passes, the British were attacked by Ghilzai warriors. Although a Dr. W. Brydon is usually cited as the only survivor of the march to Jalalabad (out of more than 15,000 who undertook the retreat), in fact a few more survived as prisoners and hostages. Shuja remained in power only a few months and was assassinated in April 1842.

The destruction of the British garrison prompted brutal retaliation by the British against the Afghans and touched off yet another power struggle among potential rulers of Afghanistan. In the fall of 1842 British forces from Qandahar and Peshawar entered Kabul long enough to rescue the British prisoners and burn the great bazaar. All that remained of the British occupation of Afghanistan was a ruined market and thousands of dead (one estimate puts the total killed at 20,000).

Although the foreign invasion did give the Afghan tribes a temporary sense of unity they had lacked before, the accompanying loss of life (one estimate puts the total killed at 25,000) and property was followed by a bitterness and resentment of foreign influence that lasted well into the twentieth century and may have accounted for much of the backlash against the modernization attempts of later Afghan monarchs.

And again:

On November 21, 1878, British troops entered Afghanistan at three points.

After tension between Russia and Britain in Europe ended with the June 1878 Congress of Berlin, Russia turned its attention to Central Asia. In the summer of 1878 Russia sent an uninvited diplomatic mission to Kabul, headed by Russia's General Stolyetov, setting in motion the train of events that led to the Second Anglo-Afghan War. Sher Ali tried to keep the Russian mission out but failed. The Russian envoys arrived in Kabul on July 22, 1878, and on August 14 the British demanded that Sher Ali accept a British mission. Sher Ali had not responded by August 17 when his son and heir died, throwing the court into mourning.

Sher Ali, having turned in desperation to the Russians, received no assistance from them.
When no reply was received, the British dispatched an envoy, Sir Neville Chamberlain, with a small military force, which was refused permission to cross the Khyber Pass by Afghan troops. The British presumably considered this an insult, but more likely it was viewed at the highest levels as a fine pretext for implementing the Forward Policy and taking over most of Afghanistan. The British delivered an ultimatum to Sher Ali, demanding an explanation of his actions. The Afghan response was viewed by the British as unsatisfactory,

Appointing his son, Yaqub, regent, Sher Ali left to seek the assistance of the tsar. Advised by the Russians to abandon this effort and to return to his country, Sher Ali returned to Mazare Sharif, where he died in February 1879.

With British forces occupying much of the country, Yaqub signed the Treaty of Gandamak in May 1879 to prevent British invasion of the rest of Afghanistan. According to this agreement and in return for an annual subsidy and loose assurance of assistance in case of foreign aggression, Yaqub agreed to British control of Afghan foreign affairs, British representatives in Kabul and other locations, extension of British control to the Khyber and Michni passes, and the cession of various frontier areas to the British.

The British resident in Kabul, Sir Louis Cavagnari, was assassinated on September 3, 1879, just two months after he arrived. British troops trudged back over the mountain passes and the Afghan uprising against the British was, unlike that of the First Anglo-Afghan War, foiled in October 1879 with the reoccupation of Kabul. Yaqub abdicated.

Despite the success of the military venture, by March 1880 even the proponents of the Forward Policy were aware that defeating the Afghan tribes did not mean controlling them. Although British policymakers had briefly thought simply to dismember Afghanistan a few months earlier, they now feared they were heading for the same disasters that befell their predecessors at the time of the First Anglo-Afghan War.

Just as the British interventionists were reaching this conclusion, the Liberal Party won an electoral victory in March 1880. This assured the end of the Forward Policy, which had been a major campaign issue. The second British venture into Afghanistan resulted in about 2500 British and colonials killed with some 1500 Afghans killed.

Of course the Government’s justification this time is the Taliban:

George W. Bush launched the war in Afghanistan in October 2001. It may become America's longest foreign war before long. What has been achieved since? Hard to tell.

The country was briefly conquered whole, the Taliban defeated, al-Qaeda dispersed. But Bush never followed through, either by consolidating military gains or by investing in the country's physical, economic and educational infrastructure to improve a country at war since the Soviet invasion of 1979. Afghanistan is now mostly back in the Taliban's control, a failed state with a future as nebulous as America's mission there.

If Bush had kept his nerve we would not now be losing soldiers, along with America and other nations, the 200 plus British death toll would not have happened, the 200 plus families would not be grieving.

Democracy! is the cry of the warmongers, democracy is the people deciding and informing the government what they want, but we do not have democracy in the UK, we have a dictatorship, and an unelected dictatorship at that.

The shame of it all is that we probably can’t withdraw now, because the “enemy” will see it as a defeat for our troops and will expand their terrorism to our shores and the USA, Bush, Blair and Brown have put us in an impossible position, a new Vietnam, a war we cannot win and which could drag on for another forty years, with losses in the tens of thousands and lines of hearses as far as the eye can see.

The answer? I don’t see one, Brown will go as Blair and Bush have, leaving a legacy of mourning families and a waste of young lives, they won’t care because it will no longer be their responsibility, yes, they will say the right words and vomit forth condolences, but it will be the country that pays the price.

Angus

Angus Dei politico

Angus Dei-NHS-THE OTHER SIDE

3 comments:

James Higham said...

Well written, Angus. Incredible folly to go there of all places, in that manner. Afghanistan requires a more lateral solution.

Phidelm said...

Excellent post, Angus - thank you (from a Stop the War Movement stalwart). This deserves much wider publication, as nobody knows any history anymore. Apparently it's 'irrelevant' - ha!

angus said...

Welcome back Phildelm,

Feel free to send it to as many people as you want, The history angle is interesting, because as you say people don't seem to know that we have invaded Afghanistan twice before and failed, just as we probably will this time.

Something for you http://angusdeionallandsundry.blogspot.com/2009/08/lost-one-made-one.html

which you might enjoy:)