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 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.