Afghanistan: forgotten war is still being fought

Amid the continuous horrors from Iraq, Afghanistan has become known as the “forgotten war”. But no longer, it seems.

Amid the continuous horrors from Iraq, Afghanistan has become known as the "forgotten war". No longer, it seems. The death of 14 men in an aircraft accident in Afghanistan's war-torn Helmand province marked the heaviest loss UK forces have suffered in a single engagement since the Falklands War, while a further 13 soldiers had been killed since the Nato-led operation against the Taliban in Helmand began in May.

The crash may have been an accident, but it has "thrown harsh light" on Britain's role in Afghanistan, as The Guardian points out. The Government has "struggled to explain" a bad case of "mission creep". Additional soldiers were originally sent to Afghanistan this year to provide security for reconstruction and development; now they are involved in full-scale combat operations.

And there are constant complaints about the quality of equipment, says William Rees-Mogg in The Times. The "snatch" Land Rovers that were used in Northern Ireland, for instance, provide insufficient protection against roadside bombs. According to Colonel Tim Collins, who oversaw a regiment in Iraq, "the Government has not spent enough on the Afghanistan operation but doesn't want to admit it".

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The wider problem with the US-led coalition's Afghanistan mission was that while it toppled the Taliban government that sheltered al-Qaeda, it committed too few troops to ensure that the Taliban were comprehensively defeated, says the FT. And thanks to allied reliance on tribal militias, the influence of the elected post-war government barely extends beyond Kabul. Finally, the Iraq campaign has wasted crucial resources and equipment.

Still, however difficult the situation in Afghanistan, it's nothing compared to the intractable mess that Iraq has become. With the country descending into sectarian war, Iraqi civilians and security personnel were being killed at a rate of 120 a day between May and August, implying 43,000 deaths over 12 months. Add more than 22,000 American dead or wounded, and it's no wonder people are finally beginning to question the Government's insistence that Iraq is inextricably linked to the war on terror, says Leonard Pitts in the Chicago Tribune. They are realising that "the only terrorism in Iraq is that which we, by our presence, have helped create".

The bungled Iraq occupation hasn't simply given jihadists a cause to boost recruitment and a new arena, says The Economist. It has been "an own-goal in the battle for hearts and minds". When it emerged that the weapons of mass destruction Bush and Blair were so worried about didn't exist, Muslims began to feel that they had been a pretext for the invasion, while retrospectively portraying the whole enterprise as an experiment in democracy "just makes Muslims crosser". You can't simply invade a country in order to impose a form of government.

In the same way that the jihadists' insist their faith is under attack witness the London bombers' martyrdom videos George Bush has started referring to a wide front of Islamic fascists. Yet not every Islamist movement is motivated by al-Qaeda's desire to restore the caliphate; Hamas and Hezbollah, for instance, have local aims. "The world must still strive to destroy al-Qaeda and the idea it represents. But it had better do so with cleverer means than those Mr. Bush has used so far."

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.