Published On: Wed, Aug 23rd, 2017

Too many have died in Afghanistan already. Trump must not draw us back

The repatriation of Private Daniel Gamble at RAF Lyneham, 16 June, 2008. More than 450 British soldiers were killed in Afghanistan

By Owen Jones

The history of this bloody conflict shows the west cannot win. The UK must refuse to become embroiled again

The test of any professed opposition to Donald Trump is what response is forthcoming when he starts dropping bombs or sending soldiers to die. There were those who spoke in grave tones about Trump’s threat to world peace – even implying he was an American Hitler – but got teary-eyed as soon as he sent missiles hurtling towards a Syrian airfield. Now he has unveiled plans to send more American soldiers to the graveyard of Afghanistan – and he wants Britain to follow suit. His latest military escapade must be resisted.

The war in Afghanistan is a monumental and – in comparison to the more notorious Iraqi quagmire – little-discussed calamity. More than 2,400 US soldiers have died there; the British death toll is over 450. As Joan Humphreys – who lost her 24-year-old grandson private Keith Elliott to the disaster – puts it, the war represents a “total waste of British lives, Afghan lives, American lives”. All families were proud of their sons, but many felt they had “died for nothing”, she said in 2014. “It has been a senseless conflict,” says Ann McLaren, who lost her 20-year-old son Scott. “What did we achieve? Nothing. It was all a waste of time.”

Donald Trump may not heed these voices, but we must. Pressure must be exerted on our own government. There is already the danger of mission creep: defence secretary Michael Fallon responded to Trump’s announcement by boasting that Britain had hiked the number of its military advisers. The danger of Britain being embroiled again in the Afghan morass is real. Our government has made a strategic decision to toady up to the bigoted reality star currently occupying the White House. Britain’s own failed conflict in Helmand province was part of the “blood price”, as Tony Blair infamously described it. After humiliation in southern Iraq, the British government was determined to prove its worth to the US administration. That must not happen again.

Consider the outcome of 16 years of direct western military involvement in Afghanistan. The Kabul government has control of just 57% of the country. Four in 10 Afghans are unemployed. Opium production has soared since the western invasion. A 2014 report found that both Iraq and Afghanistan had cost British taxpayers more than £29bn, with the British offensive in Helmand stirring up both violence and opium production.

Remember how a quick, easy victory was promised in 2001, foreshadowing the later and more notorious bloodbath in Iraq? Only a total sucker would trust Trump to succeed where others have failed, and at such a high human cost. Here was a man who some naively believed was a dove in contrast to the militarist Hillary Clinton: he is, in truth, a more naked and honest exponent of American imperialism. He is undoubtedly keen to deflect attention from his imploding ratings with bloody military ventures.

An unforgivable number of Afghans, Britons and Americans have already died needless deaths. We cannot, sadly, travel back in time to stop the disastrous military adventures of the past. We can, however, learn from our history, and demand no further return of British soldiers to the bloody battlefields of Afghanistan.

Owen Jones is a Guardian columnist


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