Afghanistan: a 'Prada war at Lidl prices'

The number of British armed forces killed in Afghanistan continues to rise. But the real scandal is the lack of adequate equipment and the failure of our political leadership.

Gordon Brown's critics say he is trying to "fight a Prada war at Lidl prices" in Afghanistan, says Mary Riddell in The Daily Telegraph. In 40 years the defence budget has fallen from 6.5% of GDP to 3%, even as Tony Blair committed troops to four wars. Our Afghan death toll now stands at 184; 15 died this month alone. Brown's parsimony with our armed forces is "criminally negligent", says Richard Littlejohn in the Daily Mail. He'd "rather rain money upon the heads of his client electorate, creating hundreds of thousands of exciting non-jobs than fritter away his bounty on fripperies like helicopters, flak jackets and armoured cars".

The failure to provide the armed forces with proper equipment and political leadership is the "greatest scandal of the war", says The Sunday Telegraph. But it doesn't mean the war is wrong. As the foreign secretary, David Miliband, reminded us, we must stop Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for terrorists, as it was before the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The idea of a resurgent Taliban, free to focus on taking over Pakistan and its nuclear weapons, is a "nightmare". Withdrawal would "destabilise the region profoundly", discredit Nato and show terrorists everywhere that the West won't persevere when its soldiers get killed.

The presence of British troops in Helmand province since 2006 has reduced the threat posed by "Al-Qaeda remnants who stayed behind after the Taliban was toppled in 2001", says Michael Evans in The Times. But Al-Qaeda has moved its terrorist operations centre to Pakistan. Besides, no one, apart from then-president George Bush in a speech several years ago, "believes the Taliban is threatening British towns and cities". The war suffers from "mission creep".

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When Blair was prime minister, he said the troops were also there to tackle the heroin trade, spread good governance and help the Afghans improve their lives. Quite, says Littlejohn, hence no one knows what they're fighting for any more, "other than fierce loyalty to their mates and their regiment".

But by "stirring up trouble for the government, the generals and the Tories risk peddling a delusion", says Riddell. Extra helicopters may save some lives, but "injections of money, hardware and manpower would not, by themselves, subdue the Taliban or procure victory. A political solution is the only guarantee of success, yet that objective is barely spoken of", even though extra UK troops are being provided for next month's presidential election.

The current incumbent, Hamid Karzai, who "boasts of being Washington's man", presides over the world's fifth most-corrupt government, turning a blind eye to last year's alleged loss of two-thirds of Afghanistan's annual revenue. Should he win (as he's likely to), we are left with a campaign whose military and political objectives are "hazy" and which costs $20bn a month. Our soldiers deserve good equipment and the "guarantee that they are the brave architects of a better future... No civilised nation should ask its soldiers to die for less."

Emily Hohler

Emily has extensive experience in the world of journalism. She has worked on MoneyWeek for more than 20 years as a former assistant editor and writer. Emily has previously worked on titles including The Times as a Deputy Features Editor, Commissioning Editor at The Independent Sunday Review, The Daily Telegraph, and she spent three years at women's lifestyle magazine Marie Claire as a features writer for three years, early on in her career. 


On MoneyWeek, Emily’s coverage includes Brexit and global markets such as Russia and China. Aside from her writing, Emily is a Nutritional Therapist and she runs her own business called Root Branch Nutrition in Oxfordshire, where she offers consultations and workshops on nutrition and health.