Should British troops stay in Afghanistan?

The war in Afghanistan was sold to us on the basis of 'self defence'. But that logic has now faded. So it it time to pull out?

The war in Afghanistan was sold to us on a "simple and compelling premise", says Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian. "It was an act of self-defence, in response to 9/11. Al Qaida was the enemy, it had taken root in Afghanistan, and so it was legitimate to hit back." But that logic has now faded.

Osama Bin Laden's men have been chased into Pakistan or scattered around the globe. So now the objective is to defeat the Taliban and turn this "wild" country into "stable, prosperous Sweden".

Except that there isn't the "slightest chance" of any Afghan leader running a regime "shorn of cronies and without the support of warlords", says the Daily Express. That "benighted land has been run on such a basis since time immemorial". Do we really want to continue sacrificing our troops in support of an Afghan president who is "irredeemably corrupt"?

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The short answer is no, says Patrick Cockburn in The Independent on Sunday. The Taliban are garnering support while our presence increasingly looks like an "imperial occupation" and two-thirds of Britons think the war is a lost cause.

The US and Britain have "tumbled into a second war that they weren't expecting". Worse, they are now "justifying their own misjudgements" with the "grossly exaggerated claim" that the war has to be fought because it is the "epicentre of the war against international terrorism".

Nor did Gordon Brown's speech last Friday bring clarity to the situation, says the newspaper's editorial. Instead, it contained the "glaring contradiction between the claim that our troops are needed there to 'keep the British people safe' and the warning that if Mr Karzai's government fails to clean up its act it will have 'forfeited its right to international support'". If you believe the Afghan mission is a national security imperative, then its continuation should not depend on Mr Karzai.

If, on the other hand, you believe that the "propaganda gain to the jihadist ideology of 'occupying' a Muslim country" outweighs the benefits of our being there, then "Mr Karzai's shortcomings give us another reason to get out".

But to leave now and abandon Afghanistan to its fate would be "the biggest betrayal of those who have given their lives so far", says Boris Johnson in The Daily Telegraph. It would also damage Britain's alliance with the US and constitute our "biggest military humiliation since Suez".

When the Russians pulled out in 1989, carnage followed and the Taliban took over. If Afghanistan falls to the Taliban, what hope is there for Pakistan? "The whole region will become a playground for the would-be terrorists."

The real problem with our mission is lack of political will. President Obama has dithered for ten weeks over General McChrystal's request for more troops. His "gestation of this question" is starting to make Brown look like a man of "mamba-like decisiveness". We many not win in the short term, but that doesn't mean it's "not worth fighting".

Emily Hohler

Emily has worked as a journalist for more than thirty years and was formerly Assistant Editor of MoneyWeek, which she helped launch in 2000. Prior to this, she was Deputy Features Editor of The Times and a Commissioning Editor for The Independent on Sunday and The Daily Telegraph. She has written for most of the national newspapers including The Times, the Daily and Sunday Telegraph, The Evening Standard and The Daily Mail, She interviewed celebrities weekly for The Sunday Telegraph and wrote a regular column for The Evening Standard. As Political Editor of MoneyWeek, Emily has covered subjects from Brexit to the Gaza war.

Aside from her writing, Emily trained as Nutritional Therapist following her son's diagnosis with Type 1 diabetes in 2011 and now works as a practitioner for Nature Doc, offering one-to-one consultations and running workshops in Oxfordshire.