A British military man who had served in both Afghanistan and Iraq gave me his views on whether we should get out of Afghanistan or not, his argument was this in a nut shell:
We can still win in Afghanistan, if we are given enough resources; if we withdraw it will be a disaster of global proportions and will allow the Taliban and al-Qaeda back in.
But what exactly are the right resources? In the middle of a financial crisis do you think the general public in Britain, the US or any of the contributing countries are going to pour even more money in? Take the US on its own, as Steven Walt has pointed out:
The United States has spent more than $223 billion on the Afghan war since 2001, and it now costs roughly $65 billion annually. The actual bill will be significantly higher, however, as these figures omit the replacement cost of military equipment, veterans’ benefits and other war-related expenses. Most important, more than 850 US soldiers have already been killed and several thousand have been seriously wounded.
The army guy responded to my arguments saying that this is the cost of war and the public needs to accept this if they are going to send us out there. I agree and which is why we have to get out. Over a 1000 British and Americans have lost their lives fighting a war that has a beginning but no clear end/objective not to mention the thousands upon thousands of Afghan civilian casualties. I would love to here a clear argument for the stage in which the Western allies are wanting to achieve in order for the “job” to be done. Would a state of stability like Pakistan do? Or are we aiming for Saudi? Lebanon? So until realism sets in the lack of an objective will set in and ambiguous harmful policies will reign.
So what about the final objective in Afghanistan from the army point of view, what does he think we are fighting for? A liberal democratic state? Certainly not he told me, to sum up an elongated argument that he gave: he basically wanted a stable centralised authoritarian state, with the complete eradication of the enemy (i.e. Taliban/al-Qaeda). This was of course a personal view but I think can be seen as representative of a large segment of the army who appreciate that the establishment of a liberal democracy in Afghanistan may be a little of the mark. This view I think points to an important point: the public is being sold the utopian idea that the Western forces are setting up a liberal democracy when actually maybe without even fully realising it the West is actively setting up a military state to ensure stability.
Rory Stewart sums up this reality up brilliantly:
US generals have spoken openly about wanting a combined Afghan army-police-security apparatus of 450,000 soldiers (in a country with a population half the size of Britain’s). Such a force would cost $2 or $3 billion a year to maintain; the annual revenue of the Afghan government is just $600 million. We criticise developing countries for spending 30 per cent of their budget on defence; we are encouraging Afghanistan to spend 500 per cent of its budget…We should not encourage the creation of an authoritarian military state. The security that resulted might suit our short-term security interests, but it will not serve the longer interests of Afghans. ..We should not assume that the only way to achieve security in a developing country is through the restriction of civil liberties, or that authoritarianism is a necessary phase in state-formation, or a precondition for rapid economic development, or a lesser evil in the fight against modern terrorism.